Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hidden Lake Winery never disappoint.

Banquet for 75 people: $1880

Honeymoon Suite: $200

Dead cockroach in the bathtub of Honeymoon Suite: PRICELESS

On the surface, the Hidden Lake Winery and Banquet Center in Aviston, Illinois would seem to have everything going for it. A quaint concept, nice secluded cabins, large banquet rooms and a connection to a California wine dynasty. Sadly, the devil is in the details. My husband and I first became aware of Hidden Lake Winery when we received some bottles of their wine as a wedding gift. We drank the wine with friends at a dinner party and all present declared the wine to be tasty so we decided to visit the winery. We had lunch at the winery and it wasn't bad, so we decided to look into having the annual Christmas party in their banquet room. I visited the winery and spoke with their party co-ordinator, and decided to have the party there and she seemed quite capable so naturally she quit a week later, as did the second co-ordinator I was working with, but the third one did manage to make it until the party day. As all my loyal readers know, I have severe back problems due to many car accidents and I am a wedding and party planner by trade. I arrived with the party decorations and such to find a huge SUV parked in front of the door and it was the owner's wife's SUV and she parked it smack in front of the door and left it running. She watched me make 5 trips from the handicapped parking space in 28 degree weather and a strong wind carrying heavy decorations before it finally dawned on her that she might want to MOVE HER FREAKING CAR SO THAT THE DISABLED PARTY PLANNER/CUSTOMER WHO SPENT TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS AT HER HUSBAND'S BUSINESS could bring in the decorations for the party without having to walk through the MUD AND ROCKS AND FREEZING RAIN of their absolutely shitty parking lot--which looks like it's been nuked repeatedly. Her attitude of "The customers can kiss my ass" was pretty much the attitude of the entire staff and it showed up in virtually every facet of the way the business is operated. The decorations that the staff had left on the tables were on mirrors that were covered with greasy, nasty fingerprints. When I asked if they could be cleaned, they gave me a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels. I was going to incorporate them into my decoration theme but I didn't have time to clean them all, so I removed them from the tables. We were contracted to have 10 tables but only 9 were set up for us and my bad--I didn't notice this until I had finished putting out the decorations so I had to cannibalize bits of decorations from other tables until I could get the table looking like the rest of them. The salt and pepper shakers were only half full on each and every table--even WAFFLE HOUSE fills their shakers every shift. There's no excuse for this kind of lack of attention to detail, and every time I asked the staff for something, their entire attitude was that I was annoying them, they did everything but ROLL THEIR EYES to convey their displeasure at being asked to do their jobs. When my husband arrived, I was in severe pain from running around on the hard floor and carrying in all the decorations from a half mile away, so he went to get me a glass of wine AND THEY CHARGED HIM $2 FOR A GLASS DEPOSIT!! How chickenshit is that? I could NOT believe it, but I drank the wine, we finished the decorations and he put out the place cards and we went to the $200 honeymoon suite to rest and get ready for the party. Again, the devil was in the details. The room was so cold we had to turn the heat on HIGH for nearly an hour to get it to 70 degrees. There was ONE towel in the room. There was a DEAD ROACH in the bathtub. There was a soap scum ring around the jacuzzi tub. There was a nearly empty roll of tissue on the spindle and the spare was on the floor underneath it. I guess changing it wasn't in the maid's job description or else they didn't want to waste the 11 squares of tissue left on it. The satellite TV didn't work because it couldn't get a signal--it kept going to blue and 'searching' for signal. There was no telephone in the room and the alarm clock was a $4 Wal-mart digital--I wanted to dock my Zune and most good hotels in the $100 per night price range have an MP3 player hookup. The towels were clean but of very poor quality--again a detail but an important one--big, thick cushy towels are the hallmark of quality hotels. There was no Internet access, so we had to use our iPhones to check email. The outside "parking lot" was nothing but mud and we couldn't see to open the door because the outside light was burned out. The "Continental Breakfast" consisted of a disposable bowl of Coco Puffs and another of Golden Grahams cereal. There were two mini-pies (the kind you buy in a convenience store) that were so bashed and smashed that I thought they had been beaten with a bat, a mushy apple--with the grocery store PLU sticker still attached--tacky, 2 GREEN bananas and a rotten orange. I'm guessing that the same chef who prepared the mediocre banquet food is also in charge of the Continental Breakfast. There was a freezer in the room fridge but NO ice cube trays although there was so much white frost on the freezer they wouldn't have fit. The coffeemaker was dirty--I mean COME ON--this is just ridiculous.It's a shame to have to write this kind of review because the cabin was beautifully rustic and the bed was as comfortable as any I've ever slept in, the grounds are lovely and the wine they bottle is very good. Unfortunately, Hidden Lake Winery never disappoint--and it shouldn't be that way. The employees are what is killing the place--they don't care and it shows in everything they do starting from their attitude toward guests to the job they do--they ignore the details and do their jobs just well enough to fool the owner into thinking he has good people. A good general manager, a good chef and an attitude adjustment would make all the difference here but it's not going to happen. As word spreads about how bad this place is, their revenue will drop and the help will get worse instead of better. I called some colleagues in the party planning business and asked them about Hidden Lake Winery and all of them said they would never do another event there because they were so unhappy with the place, so I have to add my vote to theirs too--I would never have another event there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DINING DIVA REVIEW: Blue Springs Cafe and Diamond Mineral Springs--It's not fancy but is sure is good!

Blue Springs Cafe is located right off of I-70 in Highland and they have a sister restaurant in Grant Fork (pop. 250) off Highway 160 so I am just about smack in the middle of the tow of them and they have the same food and decor--Country Kitchen. One is in a former Stuckey's and the other in a big old farm house. Nothing fancy here, but it's all fresh and homemade--including pies made just like your granny used to make--homemade crust and all! The food could be awesome with a little imagination, but it's the solid no-frills home cooking you used to find every Sunday afternoon after church at your grandma's house. Service varies, but the food is always fresh, and everything is served family style and every entree comes with bowls of real mashed potatoes and gravy, beets, cole slaw, homemade biscuits, honey and whatever sides come with the meal on the plate, usually stuffing with the turkey and roast pork. They have a standing selection of menu selections that are posted on the wall in several places. Fried chicken that is crispy and juicy, fried fish, gizzards and livers, roast pork loin that comes with stuffing in addition to all the sides, same for the roasted turkey dinner. Roast beef, chopped steak, and other family favorites round out the selections Beer and wine is available and make sure you save room for the amazing homemade pies made totally from scratch--lemon, chocolate cream, coconut cream, and an assortment of fruit pies--blackberry, cherry, peach and more! Saturday they have a steak special at the Blue Springs Cafe--filet mignon, salad, choice of potato, bread, glass of wine for 13.99 and it's GOOD!! The service is friendly and fairly efficient and the atmosphere is pure country kitchen. They give you more food than anyone could possibly eat--the last time I ate dinner there, I had lunch for 2 days out of the doggie bag I took home, but pack up half your dinner and make sure you get a slice of the best pie I've had since Grandma Dean passed on 40 years ago.
Food 3.5 stars
Service 3 stars

Saturday, November 29, 2008

DINING DIVA REVIEW: Rotelli's Pizza & Pasta

We had lunch at Rotelli's in Stuart, Florida on Black Friday and it was a delightful experience! They are a small regional chain that has stores in several states in the Southeast. It was very tastefully decorated and smelled great when we came in. It was fairly empty because everyone was in the Wal-mart and mall stampedes and this worried me until the food arrived. John and I had the daily lunch special which is a cup of soup or a salad with a half sandwich and a large slice of cheese pizza. I chose the pasta fazole and John took the Italian wedding soup and he had the chicken parm as his sandwich choice while I tool the eggplant parm. My soup was thick and full of beans and pasta and had a nice flavor, but the Italian wedding soup was a star--delicious broth and filled with tiny meatballs and both were served piping hot. The sandwiches were on fresh Italian bread and had been baked and were excellent and the pizza slice was truly excellent with plenty of cheese. My mother had their chopped chicken salad which was ice cold mixed greens, ripe avocado pieces, fresh cooked bacon bits, tomatoes and a generous size grilled chicken breast sliced fresh and topped with their basalmic vinaigrette and fresh croutons. The iced tea was freshly brewed and tasty and the meal was delicious all the way around. The lunch special was a steal at 6.99 and the salad was 9.99. Service was cheerful and efficient and tea refills were prompt and automatic--we didn't have to ask! Rotini's is a gem in the strip mall and was located next to the ColdStone Creamery so we had dessert there!
If you go:

Rotelli's Pizza & Pasta
2181 SE Federal HwyStuart, FL 34994
(772) 403-2200‎

Food 3.5 Stars
Service 3.5 Stars

Dining Diva Review: Raindancer--Consistently Serving the World's Best Steak since 1975!

I am in West Palm Beach this week visiting my family for the Thanksgiving holidays. I am also at the home of the finest steaks in the known universe that are being served nightly at the Raindancer Restaurant on Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. I have long considered the Raindancer to be the best steak restaurant on the planet and as a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, I do not take this distinction lightly. I have eaten steak at the Raindancer at every opportunity I've had since 1975 and although the price has risen, the quality of the meat is still excellent and the service is still at the same high standard it has always kept. This is the only place I have ever dined that can consistently make a correctly cooked Pittsburgh steak--burnt outside, raw and cold center. I have never sent back ANYTHING I have ever been served by their exemplary waitstaff. Upon entering the restaurant, the atmosphere is friendly but reeks of the old gentility of a New York private club with the dark wood paneling and comfortable seating. If you must wait for a table, you are ushered to the bar and plied with excellent (and generously poured) libations and complimentary snacks. When your table is ready, the hostess comes to seat you and your cocktails are put on your dinner check--no having to pay a bar bill before going to eat--the epitome of classy behavior in a restaurant. The restaurant is dimly lit, but elegantly done and the candles are lit at your table by your lead waiter. The assistant waiter will bring your water while your lead waiter brings your next cocktail or iced tea. The menus are proffered and the nightly specials are recited (with the price) and recommendations given. The waitstaff will discuss any or all of the selections on the wine list and the menu is two pages. There are steaks in every cut, prime rib, (which I have never gotten there early enough to sample) Lamb chops, 2-3 fresh fish selections, a chicken selection and lobster tails. All steaks are cooked to order and can be ordered with their amazing wild mushroom medley which is 4 types of wild mushroom in a buttery wine sauce that is beyond compare. Your dinner order is held until you make the obligatory trip to the salad bar where hot bread and three blocks of delectable cheese await. After slicing large chunks of either Swiss, cheddar or jalapeno jack and hot bread, there is a large bowl of fresh mixed greens and spinach leaves along with just about anything one might desire to add to a salad along with 5 dressings made from scratch on premises. The end of the bar is stocked with freshly prepared bacon bits, walnuts, anchovies, sunflower seeds, green onions, homemade croutons and raisins to top off your salad. Water and soft drink service is prompt and so unobtrusive that one would believe the glass was refilled by magic. Your entree comes with unlimited trips to the salad bar and choice of baked potato, sweet potato, steak fries or rice pilaf. The steaks are butter tender and cooked EXACTLY TO ORDER and they do it perfectly. The steak fries are crisp and brown outside and fluffy and bursting with potato flavor inside. The baked potato is served with real butter and sour cream, the sweet potato is served with cinnamon butter and is delicious as is the rice pilaf. Dessert is limited to 3 or 4 choices, Key Lime pie, New York cheesecake with choice of topping, two layer chocolate-chocolate chip cake, and a sugar-free cappuccino cheesecake. Service was precise and perfect as always and the steaks were as perfect as I have come to expect in the last 33 years of dining at this wonderful steak institution. I have spent at least ten thousand dollars at this restaurant over the years and it has been worth every single penny every time. It's the best steak restaurant on the planet. Period.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Walk-On's Bistreaux and Grill in Baton Rouge LA (at LSU)

Walk-on's is a sports bar and grill called a "Bistreaux" and it's also the home of the LSU Tiger's live radio broadcasts. It's a pleasant place with enough wood for paneling, bar, floors and tables to make the Sierra Club members gnash their teeth, and it's loaded with plenty of television so that sports fans can see their team from anywhere in the building. Service is prompt and cheerful with college-age wait staff scantily clad and since it's literally on the line between LSU and Baton Rouge, plenty of their staff and customers must be students. They have the best fried pickles of any place I've ever tried them. They are crisp on the outside and a little spicy with the hot and tart dill pickle taste of the crinkle cut chips inside. They are served with a ranch dip which is the perfect creamy cool counterpart to their heat and tart bite. The Grilled Chicken Club was served on a Croissant and it was also very good--the bread was buttery and flaky just as a Croissant should be and there was a nice plump and juicy chicken breast in there; along with applewood smoked bacon, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, good mayonnaise and smoked provolone cheese. They had some dessert selections too, but we didn't sample any as we were done in by the fried pickles and the beers. They had a large variety of locally brewed Abita beers that are always good and they were all served on draft. They also had a large selection of other imported and domestic beer. Happy hour from 3-6 on Monday-Friday means $1 off each draft beer. Our server was a pleasant college-age young lady who went out of her way to make us happy and our order was delivered promptly and exactly as we had asked for it. All in all it was a pleasant place to go and have a meal and a beer and catch the game!
Food: 3.5 stars

Service: 3.75 stars

Dining Diva Review: Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers Baton Rouge, Louisiana

When all you serve is chicken fingers, they better be some really good ones! Raising Cane's has the very best chicken fingers on the planet, they have a secret sauce to dip them in, crisp, golden and fresh fries, creamy cole slaw and crisply grilled Texas toast made from thick slices of soft, sweet white bread slathered in a garlicy spread and grilled till crisp on each side and delicious. Even their iced tea is delicious, and it comes either unsweetened or as tooth-cracking sweet as Southern tea is noted for. I wish they had a selection of sauces, but the one they have is pretty good. Several locations through Baton Rouge, open late for the LSU crowd and owned by a loyal LSU supporter! I've eaten at 4 different locations, and each one has been as good as the previous and everyone has the same delicious chicken fingers, cole slaw, crispy crinkle-cut fries and slabs of Texas toast. I wish they had a different sauce or at least a choice of sauces but they only have one--and it's good but a little variety would be even better! A small chain with huge potential to become the next McDonalds or Popeye's!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Neely's Interstate Barbeque, Memphis TN

UPDATE: November:
I had luch there with hubby on the way back to visit the folks and it has gone
WAYYYYY downhill since then. It was truly terrible--like the meat had been reheated many times
and the sides tasted stale. It was a disappointment since I had been looking forward to eating here again!! I'll never eat here again!

I found the Neely's Interstate Barbecue menu and flyer in the rest area just over the Tennessee state line, and since on I-55 you cross about a 3 mile tip of Tennessee it's easily accessible although you can sneeze and miss the entire state! If you are going to see Graceland, a trip to Neely's is time well spent as it has received numerous awards for barbecue. They also have an interesting and original dish called "Barbecue Spaghetti" that is definitely different and quite tasty, but for me the BBQ meat is what I came for! I had the sampler platter to taste some of everything and the meats were divine--tender and smokey from the cooking but the sauce was disappointing and I'm glad I didn't have it slathered on the meat. The biggest surprise was the baked beans--I make great baked beans, and like my secret spaghetti sauce, I don't really like anyone else's beans but the ones at Neely's were OUTSTANDING! Not too sweet and nicely thick and gooey--not the runny and icky version sold as an afterthought by most BBQ places, these were flavored with chunks of BBQ and cooked for a long time as they were thick and gooey. I ate a big portion and tucked two big containers in the trunk of my car to go--and since there's so little trunk space in the Diva-mobile it was tough fitting them in with the ribs that also left Memphis with me! When the food is this good, I eat all I can hold and take home all I can carry! They also had a dessert that is called "Better than Sex Cake" so of course I had to try a slice of that too and it did not disappoint--of course I'd have to call it "Better that Sex with my EX-Husband Cake" but that's a story for another day and a different blog!
Back in Memphis, Neely's Interstate BBQ is great for a quick meal or they also cater. The service was mediocre but it was during an off time and my waitress had probably been there since the place opened and I will give her the benefit of the doubt because of her sullen attitude, I will opine that she was tired and had sore feet and let it go at that. I am leaving in a few days to go to Louisiana to visit my beloved in-laws and then on down to Florida for some review and Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family. I will be stopping again at Neely's as I will have hubby with me this time and hopefully the service will be better this time and the food will be as good! See you at the next booth.......

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Hooters hits horrendous low in Fairview Heights, IL

The Hooters Restaurant in Fairview Heights has set a new low, and after reaching rock bottom, has begun to dig. How hard is it to cook an unbreaded, well done chicken wing? Apparently for the kitchen staff at the Fairview Heights Hooters, it's an insurmountable task. For the third time in as many visits, they have failed to cook my requested dish of chicken wings the way I requested them to be cooked. One would think that Hooters could manage to cook an order of their SIGNATURE DISH properly, but that would not be the case. Each time I have visited Hooters, I have ordered the same thing--unbreaded well-done wings. Each time the same thing has happened--the first order of wings (after a 20 minute wait) comes out with breading, and then the second time (after sending the first order back because I ordered them naked since I don't like greasy fried breading) after I make the identical order, I receive unbreaded and UNDERCOOKED wings. Each time I waited FORTY MINUTES and left without getting anything to eat. I cannot put into words how incompetent the waitstaff or the kitchen or both has to be in order to screw up the IDENTICAL order TWICE IN A ROW on the same visit and have this happen on THREE SEPARATE VISITS IN A ROW. I have never seen such incompetence at any restaurant IN MY LIFE and for this to happen REPEATEDLY on THREE SEPARATE VISITS is simply beyond the pale. Chicken wings are Hooter's SIGNATURE DISH. If they can do nothing else, they SHOULD be able to manage to cook a batch of unbreaded well-done wings yet they have failed to do this SIX CONSECUTIVE TIMES. It's not a complicated thing and if they can't master something this simple, then they should really close the restaurant and try something they could succeed at doing--such as playing with their lower lips or walking and chewing gum at the same time. I will NEVER go back to Hooters again--I don't know if their wings are good or bad because I've never gotten to eat any of them. So, to the siliconed and nubile waitstaff I offer this advice: Write down the order and to the imbecile in the do-rag I advise him to READ the order. This could possibly result in my actually getting something to eat although I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dining Diva Product Review--Chocolate Dunkers at Pizza Hut

I was fully prepared to loathe the new Pizza Hut Chocolate Dunkers, I was sure the would be horrid like everything else Pizza Hut makes and to my total surprise and dismay, they were astoundingly good. Fresh baked soft bread sticks topped with melty, gooey and yummy chocolate crumbles with warm Hershey's chocolate syrup to dip them in. If there is a perfect PMS dish then without a shadow of a doubt this is it. It blows away everything just because it's unique and it closes the deal with it's warm, soft, gooey chocolate goodness. Just one more thing standing between me and being a size 8 once again!

Dining Diva Review: Bob Evans Restaurant--the best of it's kind!

Our Server, Tiffany ------------------------------------------->

There are any number of restaurants like Bob Evans, Denny's, Waffle House, Hen House, IHoP, Cracker Barrel et. al but not many of them are as good as the Bob Evans chain. We had a very nice dinner at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Collinsville IL--just off exit 10 on I-70, and believe me when I tell you that you CANNOT miss it! It is literally staring you in the face at the traffic light when you exit, and this makes for convenient access. We were promptly seated in a comfortable booth and the restaurant is decorated in early American Grandmother's Kitchen and was spotlessly clean. Our sever, Tiffany was a very good waitress and had a 5 year pin so she'll probably be there if you go! She was just as sweet as she could be and was very good at keeping our iced tea glasses full and the pumpkin bread coming! John had the open-faced turkey sandwich on Texas toast served with mashed potatoes and dressing slathered in turkey gravy (one of their "knife and fork" sandwiches) at the Bob Evans in Aberdeen, Maryland last week and had a craving for another one. I had the wonderful chicken salad with bleu cheese crumbles, REAL bacon bits, dried cranberries and sugared pecans with mixed greens. John said his "sandwich" was delicious and finished it in the blink of an eye and also made short work of a large serving of their wonderful pumpkin bread that came with the meal. He hates pumpkin so the fact that he ate 2 big slices and bought another loaf to take with us speaks volumes for how good it is. Moist, sweet and served in 1" thick slices it didn't need the butter than came with it, but of course I buttered it which made it even better! It would have been equally delicious with cream cheese or Devonshire cream and Tiffany kept us well-supplied with it. My salad was excellent with a very generous portion of white meat along with fresh, cold and crisp salad greens and all the little add-ins I mentioned above and was big enough to share. It does come in two sizes for the smaller appetite, but makes a very hearty dinner. The dressing was a spicy ranch that was a little sweet for my taste but I mixed some regular ranch with it and it was divine! Even the iced tea was delicious--fresh brewed and good flavor--not watered down or even worse: that horrid post-mix from the soft drink dispenser. We were too stuffed to order dessert but very happy with our meal and service and Tiffany let us take her picture for the review--she's a sweetheart! There are Bob Evans Restaurants all over the Northeast United States, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding one when you are out traveling. I'm going to be looking for them more often when I am on the road!
Food 3.5 stars (which for a diner is 5 stars for fine dining!)
Service 3.5 stars (ditto)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Shenanigans in Edwardsville, IL--The Last Rare Hamburger On Earth Served Here!

Shenanigans in Edwardsville, IL was the site of our latest lunch and it was a rare treat--literally! The restaurant's decor and appearance suggest that it was once a Bennigan's, but it's possible that it's a similar decor and theme. The extensive menu had a large selection of appetizers, wings, burgers, sandwiches and salads, a typical pub food type of place that is all too common these days, but while the selection was commonplace the food was very good indeed! I had the king size burger and I learned to my surprise and delight that they definitely trust their butcher because I ordered and RECEIVED my burger rare--something I haven't had in a VERY long time! (No one will cook a burger rare any more because they all fear the new scourge of the planet: the dreaded e. coli bacteria, which tells me that most of the restaurants in America don't trust their meat suppliers.) My husband had the battered cod which he said was delicious and the morsel he shared with me was indeed delicious--crisply battered but not greasy with a sweetly moist white fish inside. It was delectable indeed, but by far the burger I had was beyond compare. Even though it was very rare as I had requested, I could easily taste the freshness of the beef and it was juicy and delicious! The 10 oz burger was freshly ground and came with a very fresh burger set of lettuce, RIPE tomato slices, an onion slice and plenty of dill pickle chips. The bun was also good, an egg bread Kaiser that was fresh as a daisy, but they will also make any sandwich into a low-carb wrap on request. We both had the steak fries which were perfect--crisp on the outside and fluffy potato perfection on the inside--and the large portion of fries were served UNSALTED so that WE could decide how much salt to sprinkle on! The also have homemade potato chips, cole slaw, baked potato or for a small extra charge the soup of the day or a house salad as a side dish choice with all sandwiches. We visited on Hallowe'en so Marselle our server was dressed as Mia from Pulp Fiction complete with bloody nose and needle in the chest and told me that I was only the second person that recognized her costume for what/whom it portrayed. Gruesome as the costume was, the service was friendly and efficient and the iced tea was freshly brewed and had great flavor with refills offered and served promptly. When she graduates from college in the spring, they will lose a good employee, she was cheerful and saw that our special requests were immediately taken care of--to wit: my husband's request for malt vinegar for his fish and my cooked-to-order rare burger. The restaurant booth seat was fairly worn out and lumpy, but this is a minor point, but the restrooms were clean and well-stocked with paper goods and soap. There was plenty of parking and the lot was in good shape as well, nothing is worse than a parking lot that looks as if it has just been nuked with moon-size craters to break your ankle or the heel of your shoe in! All in all it was a truly excellent lunch place and I must recommend it highly for anyone. They have a full liquor bar and smoking is not allowed in the restaurant (or in any Illinois restaurant since a law banning it as of Jan 1, 2008). It was also very nicely decorated for the Hallowe'en party that was being advertised inside the menu and on the bulletin board in the entrance foyer. All in all, it was a much better experience than I thought it would be and ranks high in the legions of pubs in our great country and I recommend it highly--you won't be disappointed!
Food: 3.50 Stars
Service: 3.50 Stars

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dining Diva Review:DiMaggio's Pizza, Highland, IL

DiMaggio's is a nice little family-owned pizzaria in Highland Illinois, just off the town square and is operated by some of the nicest people you ever want to meet. It's a typical family owned pizza place with a limited menu, but what they do, they do fairly well. Their pizzas are LOADED with toppings and cheese on and extremely thin and crisp crust with almost no edge, very similar to the Imo's pizza so beloved (for unknown reasons) by the St. Louis population. Their sauce is a little on the sweet side, but I like a sweet sauce so I'm OK with it. The iced tea is good and you can get a nice cold beer with your pie and they have some house wine selections that are better left in the bottle in the cellar. I tried their lasagne for the first time and it was certainly no worse than anywhere else and if you like their sauce, it's better than most. To me their sauce was lacking in flavor and spices--a little basil and oregano would go a long way towards improving the lasagne flavor, but they are generous with the ricotta and mozzarella. The tiramisu is made on the premises and it's also pretty good. They dip the ladyfingers in Kahluha as opposed to expresso so it's extra sweet but it's better than a lot of places although I prefer marscapone to whipped cream, but it's still homemade and very tasty. They have a buffet on Wednesday and Saturday nights and a lunch buffet every day except Mondays when they are closed. The service is very friendly and they treat you like family when you come in, this is a big plus in my book, I like friendly service in a family restaurant. All in all, it's a pretty good little pizza joint--and much better than Dominos, Pizza Hut, et. al and fairly priced!

Dining Diva Review: McCafe at the National Air and Space Museum Dulles Airport Washington DC

While at the Air and Space museum out by Dulles airport, there was a regular McDonalds and the new concept McCafe where they have sweets and coffee in a Starbucks type of ambience in an effort to compete with them. This is their latest trend although it would be a lot more successful if they didn't clip you for $2.99 for internet access at the cafe. The prices at the regular McDonalds were exorbitant while the McCafe prices were quite reasonable so I opted to try the Caramel Fudge Cheesecake that was a paltry 2.99 for a generous slice of fudge-bottomed caramel and nut topped cheesecake in a divine buttery graham cracker crust. I didn’t have high expectations, it was McDonald’s after all and I only chose the cheesecake because I wouldn’t pay 5.99 for a Big Mac if I were starving to death. The cheesecake was better than I could have hoped for in my wildest dreams. The ½ inch of fudge at the bottom was divine when eaten with the buttery crispy crust, it was the texture of chocolate velvet--smooth, sweet and creamy. I slowly ate the bottom in small bites, savoring every moment of the experience--eyes closed, rolling it over my tongue letting the sweet, rich fudge soften before swallowing it--it was THAT good. Not to be outdone, the caramel sauce and nuts over the top half of plain cheesecake was just as good--buttery sweet, calorific and incredibly rich with the sweet caramel and crunchy pecans adding interesting texture to the velvet goodness of the top half of this amazing treat. This was the first McCafe I’ve ever visited, but it was every bit as nice as a Starbucks visit for about 40% less money and I highly recommend that you visit one as soon as possible--I’ll be the really FAT woman in the corner sucking down the caramel fudge cheesecake!

Dining Diva Review: Outback Steakhouse, Fairview Heights IL

The Outback Steakhouse in Fairview Heights is a disgrace to the Outback brand, and should lose its franchise designation as it is closer to an outhouse than an Outback. Nothing they're doing at that restaurant is done correctly. In my last three visits, they have screwed up my food each and every time, and although they keep trying to make it right I am tired of sending my food back. I do not go out to dine so that I can watch my husband eat while I wait for the kitchen to RE-cook my food, and even though my husband loves the Outback he agrees that the one in Fairview Heights is terrible. Everything I order is either overcooked, undercooked or oversalted to the point where it is inedible. I ordered the rack of lamb and they brought me lamb chops. The waiter specifically asked me if I wanted to have my rack cut into chops and I said no. Naturally they brought me lamb chops: each every one heavily seasoned with their salty seasoning mix which rendered the chops inedible. I ask for a steak cooked Pittsburgh rare and they brought me one that was well done. I as for lamb chops to be medium and the lamb bit me when I poked a fork in it. It is the only Outback that is consistently empty because the food is so poorly cooked. When you complain, they try to make it right, but sending my food back ruins the entire experience for me. I don't want free food, I don't want it RE-cooked, I want it right the first time which is something the kitchen seems to be incapable of doing. It's too bad because the Outback was consistently one of my favorite restaurants for a number of years. I hope the one and Fairview Heights is not indicative of the experience one can now expect at other Outback Restaurants around the country.
Food 1 star
Service 2.5 stars

Dining Diva Review: India's Oven--Authentic Indian Food in the Heartland!

My first experience with Indian Food was when I was living in Tokyo, Japan. My neighbor who lived across the hall was Indian and liked to cook. Every day when I came home, the aromas wafting under the door filled the hall with the promise of exquisitely delicious dishes on the other side of that door. When I finally mustered the courage to knock, a gracious Indian lady of about my age answer the door and invited me in. She laughed when I begged for a taste of whatever she was cooking, and inviting me to join her cooking classes which were held every Wednesday. I learn to cook many Indian dishes under her tutelage and developed an appreciation for the cuisine. My husband took me to India's Oven as a surprise and the food was absolutely outstanding. I had the Butter Chicken, complete with Na'an bread, basmati rice and my husband had the chicken curry both of which were excellent. The bread was perfect, straight from the clay oven, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It was perfect for scooping up the butter chicken and wiping the dish clean of any sauce left behind. The basmati rice was fluffy and flavorful -sweet with cardamom and clove and the perfect counterpoint to the spicy sauce. The service was good but not a memorable service experience. They were courteous, prompt and efficient but not overly helpful or attentive. My husband had his first the Singha beer and pronounced it tasty and the perfect accompaniment to the spicy food. His only complaint was that he tasted the food most of the night, and I have to admit that Indian Food will repeat like that, but it's the price you pay for the delicious food. We were too full to consider dessert but we plan a repeat visit in the very near future!

Food 4 stars
Service 3 stars

Dining Diva Review: Cutter's in Belleville: Astoundingly Good Pub Food!

My husband and I went to an office celebration at a pub called Cutter's where the drinks were cheap, the food was really cheap but the quality and flavor was a steal! We were there to celebrate an accomplishment of one of my husband's co-workers, and she chose the place. From the outside it was not impressive and looked like a million other gin mills on the side of the road with no interstate access and no advertising. The parking lot was filled and when we got our food, I understood why. The hamburgers were less than $3 and they were truly outstanding--I've paid a lot more for a lot less--juicy and flavorful with a crisp carmelized crust that gave the tender and juicy inside marvelous flavor! The patty had been hand-made and was bursting with the good burger flavor--the kind you get at a backyard cookout where someone cooked good beef with tender loving care. The fish dinner was also excellent and dirt cheap--a steal in fact! The outside was crisp and tasty with tender and flaky white fish inside. I would have expected to (and would have) parted with more than $12 for a portion of fish and fries this substantial and it would have been a deal at that price--but for under $5 I was astounded. The drinks were also cheap, my rum and diet coke was a paltry $2.50, a price you don't see outside of a private club like an American Legion hall, and it was a healthy drink--not tiny and watered down, but the kind of drink you only have 2 of unless you want a ride in the blue-light taxi! The place was crowded and noisy with people eating and drinking and it had a lot of room inside. The band shell tells me they have live music there was no advertisement for a band. There was also a generously sized sunken dance floor surrounded by a rail which allows seated patrons to view the band while people dance. The restrooms are clean and well stocked and the overall atmosphere was cheerful. The service is friendly, if hurried, because of the volume of food and drinks being served. All in all it was a much better dining experience and I could have hoped for in my wildest dreams when viewing the outside. I highly recommend Cutters as a great place to go for happy hour drinks and pub food!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Indian Food in San Jose, West Meets East In A Spicy Way!

I was in San Jose over the weekend and stumbled over Shagun Indian Cuisine Restaurant and it was delicious! They don't deliver on the weekends but since I told them I was starving, in a hotel and car-less, they were kind enough to bring me some food.
The food was piping hot and delicious when it arrived. I had my favorite, Butter Chicken and it was big chunks of Tandoori roasted chicken in a spicy cream sauce the color of a ripe pumpkin, spicy but not overly hot. It came with a generous helping of basmati rice and I had a side of Nan, the tasty roasted bread cooked in a clay oven and served with just about everything. It was also hot and fresh from the oven and carefully wrapped in foil to keep it warm and fresh. The Somosa I ordered was spicy beef inside a crisp wrapper that was deliciously spicy on the inside. The order was carefully wrapped and came with a spicy green chutney and other goodies from the kitchen of this spicy surprise tucked away by the airport in San Jose. I can't rate the service because it was delivered, but it was fresh, full of flavor and delivered by a delightfully cheerful young lady who was just as nice as she could be! I enjoyed the meal immensely and wish I could eat here more often, but as it's on the life tour I don't know when I will have another chance to eat at this restaurant; it's almost worth the price of a plane ticket! From the window table......
Delivery Service: 4 STARS

Shagun Indian Cuisine

50 Skyport Dr

San Jose, CA 95110

(408) 436-7959

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dining Diva Review: Pappy's Smokehouse Barbecue St. Louis Missouri

Pappy's Smokehouse BBQ is the best BBQ place I have tried in St. Louis to date. For a town that has a reputation as a serious barbecue destination, I have not been very impressed with the 'cue in the Archtropolis. Before I went to Pappy's, I had read a poll that named Bandana's BBQ as the best in the area which was somewhat depressing since I consider Bandana's to be only about one step above Sonny's BBQ which is pretty much garbage. Pappy's is an unpretentious place with an enormous collection of barbecue sauces lining a shelf that circles the top of the restaurant. A life-size ceramic pig named "Barney" greets you as you approach the counter to place your order to the friendly cashier who takes your name and money and gives you a cup to go to the drink station and help yourself to some really good iced tea that comes unsweetened or tooth-cracking sweet and the usual selection of sodas. On my first visit, I sampled the pulled pork and ribs and took a sample of turkey, beef, pork and ribs home to share with my better half. The pulled pork is my favorite with a wonderful rich smoked flavor and tender as butter. The brisket had good flavor but was a little bit chewy as were the ribs--another couple of hours in the smoker would make all the difference in the world on the beef and ribs. The turkey was also juicy and meltingly tender. They have three table sauces, a regular, a spicy and one called Sweet Baby Jane named for the proprietor's granddaughter. One of the main reasons for the success of the restaurant is the owner who mingles with the customers and works the dining room like a politician at a fundraiser--smiling and chatting with everyone as if they were having barbeque in his backyard at home. It's a nice touch that would bring people back even if the best barbecue in town WASN'T being served inside. He is one of the nicest and most genuinely warm people I have ever met in this business. I understand from him that there will be another sauce soon as he is expecting another grandchild, and his daughter told him the news by telling him he was going to have to come up with another sauce, which was a very sweet story. This was on my first visit and he was as warm and friendly as if he'd known me forever. We chatted about barbecue and to my delight he was familiar with some other barbecue places I have dined in around this great country, namely Troy's in South Florida and Interstate BBQ on I-55 in Memphis where I stopped to eat on my way home from Louisiana. The lunch line is long but it moves quickly and the tables are basically picnic tables and a few high-tops with plastic red-and-white checkered tablecloths and they fill quickly. There is a staff member that circulates through the dining area picking up trays and keeping the tables tidy which keeps the tables turning and the crowd moving smoothly. The restaurant opens at 11 am and closes when they are sold out as they do not reheat their products, so arrive early to avoid being disappointed.
Food: 4 stars
Service: No table service but the counter service is 4-star quality.

Dining Diva Review: The World's Best Barbecue--Troy's Ribs Boynton Beach, Florida

The best ribs I have found in the world have been at Troy's BBQ in Boynton Beach. I've been a BBQ Ho for my entire life and have eaten Q all over the USA and the world and I have yet to find a better rib joint than the little take-out shack at NE 10th and Federal Highway (US 1) in Boynton Beach, Florida. There's no point in reviewing ambience or service because there isn't any--it's a takeout window in a 600 square foot building so close to the railroad tracks that you can't hear a thing when the train goes by. Troy is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and you better get there early because when it's gone you are SOL until the next batch comes out of the smoker--and that takes at least 18 hours. The limited menu features ribs, chicken, beef and pork along with a sweet potato pie that is a really excellent rendition of a humble dish.

Troy uses a secret spice rub and then gently smokes the ribs for hours over a wood mix that leaves them incredibly delicious and shake-the-meat-off-the-bone tender. He has a house BBQ that is good, but I rarely use it--those amazing ribs don't need it!! It's a sweet mustard based sauce that is very similar to Blue Front BBQ Sauce and it's good, but the flavor of BBQ is in the meat, not in the sauce. Call ahead for large orders. He also does catering and I have served his ribs at countless parties where my guest ate every single rib and raved about them. Tell him the limo lady sent you, he'll know! I wish I could talk him into franchising so I could get a franchise here in Illinois!! I used to live 15 minutes from there and now I live in Virginia and every time I come to visit, I bring back 50 pounds of ribs as carry-on luggage to sustain me until my next Florida visit. If there is a heaven, then Troy certainly will have the rib concession because between here and heaven there are no better ribs to be had for love or money, and I am sure that angels will line up for his BBQ! His fame has spread nationwide--I mentioned him to the owner of Pappy's Smokehouse and he has also heard of Troy's Ribs. I'd never live in Florida again, but I sure do miss Troy's ribs--they are one of two places in Florida that I never fail to visit when I am home for a visit with my family!

Dining Diva Review: China Restaurant, Highland Illinois--A Rural Surprise That Rivals Hong Kong's Finest Restaurants!

Imagine the shock of moving to a tiny town in rural Illinois and discovering a Chinese restaurant on the same level as the magnificent ones I dined in all over Asia! This is the case with the China Restaurant located on the town square in Highland, Illinois. The place doesn't look like much from the outside, but there's ample parking and even though the booth seating is a little lumpy, the staff is friendly and they all speak English fluently. The menu prices are VERY reasonable and although the portions aren't huge, they are more than enough for a substantial meal. The egg rolls are more like spring rolls, but are very tasty. The Wonton soup has big meaty wontons in a lovely chicken broth that was made from chickens instead of soup base. The Hot and Sour soup is one of the best I've had in the USA and only equalled by a restaurant in Palm Beach, FL and another one in Richmond, VA who use the virtually the same recipe. The LoMeins are tasy and filled with meats and veggies as is the fried rice, and even though this is ordinary fare, they do a very good job of it--and if you can't do the basics well, the rest won't be good either. They do excellent sweet and sour dishes as their meat pieces are mostly meat instead of mostly breading and is very crisp and not greasy.Where China Restaurant really shines is in the Chef Specialties. Their General Tao's Chicken has a very thin crisp coating and is tossed in a wonderful sauce and served with very fresh steamed broccoli and has a spicy sweet bite that can be adjusted to your taste preferences. Their Orange Beef is likewise a tasty dish with a definite orange flavor and bits of juliennes orange peel prominently scattered through the dish. The Sesame Beef is tender with a light sauce that again will have a spicy bite altered to your taste. They will also add spice to dishes that are not normally though of as spicy dishes if you request it. The Mu Shu Pork (or beef, chicken and shrimp) is wonderfully flavored and rolled up in lovely thin rice pancakes with just the right touch of Hoisin sauce and the Twice Cooked Pork is a classic in brown sauce that lightly glazes the cabbage, peppers and pork. Even the fortune cookies are good--fresh, crisp and individually wrapped. The service is attentive and water and beverage service is prompt, and chopsticks are available on request. They have a small selection of imported beers including Tsing Tao which is a very good Chinese imported beer and a small wine selection. They deliver lunch and dinner locally as well as catering and selling their sauces (sweet and sour, etc.) by the pint or quart for use in home recipes. Friendly service, low prices, fresh ingredients and an excellent chef make this little Asian restaurant jewel shine in the heartland in a place you would not expect to find it!

Food: 4 stars
Service 3 stars
UPDATE: China Restaurant has been refurbished and redecorated and looks GREAT!! They have added a full liquor bar, new carpeting, new lighting, 2 beautiful aquariums and a big High-Definition TV in the bar for the patrons. The food remains First Class!!

Dining Diva Review: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Baton Rouge, LA
We dined here with my husband's parents to celebrate his Dad's birthday. The ambience was very nice and the table properly appointed, but the meal left a lot to be desired. Fleming's is owned by Outback, so I was hoping for a great dining experience in the expensive restaurant category, in the class of the Raindancer Steak House. Alas, this was not to be.
They did make an effort to make my father-in-law happy for his birthday by bringing him a "birthday salad" composed of a wedge of iceberg lettuce heart slathered in bleu cheese dressing which Dad absolutely LOVES after we declined the cake offer (we had gotten an Ambrosia Cake from Baton Rouge's best bakery that was at home for later) but while it showed the dedication of our waiter, the rest of the meal was substantially below what we had expected for a restaurant of this alleged calibre. It was WAY WAY overpriced for a steak full of gristle. Service was good but it should be for what they charge. As expensive as Ruth's Chris and also a la carte which I find annoying--for a $60 steak would it kill you to toss me a 50 cent potato? The salads were good, the wine list impressive, but the steaks were a miserable failure all the way around. I'd never eat there again, I've had better steaks at Golden Corral than the miserable piece of meat they served me at this failure of a restaurant. My father-in-law had a good time, but he always has a good time with us--we could have stayed at home and gotten a slew of boiled crawfish like we did last time we were in Baton Rouge, spicy and fresh cooked with corn and potatoes, we dumped them on the patio table a had a feast! Fleming's needs to find a new meat supplier or they need to lower the prices because their meat supplier is ripping them off in a big way--and apparently their executive chef doesn't know how to pick out and butcher a decent piece of meat.

Dining Diva Review: Mungo's Restaurant in Fairview Heights IL--Review

My husband and I had dinner at Mungo's tonight (9/5/07) and it was quite a distressing experience. I grew up in the restaurant business, owned a very profitable one for a while and spent 2 years at Le Cordon Bleu in Tokyo--along with having been cooking for almost 40 years. First, there was some sort of black gunge in my iced tea--not a big deal, the tea was replaced immediately but I couldn't figure out what it was that was in there--but it made a yukky dark brown smear on the tacky white butcher paper they put over the tablecloths--what's up with that by the way? Can't they afford tablecloth laundry? It looks REALLY tacky to have white paper over a burgundy tablecloth--here's a hint--spring for the Plexiglas cover if you can't afford tablecloths or better yet no tablecloth. Anything is better than the white-trash ambiance of the paper-covered table! I had the Fettuccine Alfredo with chicken and asked for the chicken to be well done since I've been served MORE than my share of raw chicken and shrimp over salads and pastas and I hate sending food back. The fettuccine was good, but the chicken was ROCK HARD and obviously had been microwaved--there wasn't a grill mark or browning of any sort to be seen on it and I could barely cut it with a knife--really bad. I told the waiter this but didn't send it back because in all fairness I DID ask for well-done chicken and I figured the chef wanted to make sure it was not coming back. The waiter insisted that it hadn't been microwaved, but it had been not that I cared to argue about it, I just wanted to eat after a stressful day of wedding planning and auditioning restaurant and caterers. I had forgotten about it; when to my utter astonishment, a man dressed in blue-jean cutoffs claiming to be the OWNER (who looked like he'd been nipping a few at the bar) came to my table and began screaming that the chicken had not been microwaved and that it had been sauteed in olive oil and that I had insulted his restaurant and that I shouldn't tell them how I wanted my food cooked--just let them handle it. Up to this point the crud in the tea, the tacky butcher paper over the tablecloth and the rock-hard microwaved chicken were basically non-issues and I would have given the restaurant another try somewhere down the road since I always eat somewhere twice before reviewing or deciding never to eat there again. In the limo/wedding/hospitality biz one has to be a little flexible and realize that doo-doo does happen--regular chef is sick and the replacement pops a piece of chicken in a microwave to try and give the customer what was requested, but for the owner to come out and scream at dinner guests is an experience I have never had--and won't repeat. I didn't understand why the place was so empty at the dinner hour, but after being lambasted by the owner, it all makes perfect sense and I understand why the poor chef lied about microwaving the chicken to his enraged boss--who then turned his rage on the customer, a super no-no in the hospitality industry. As a retired restaurant owner, professionally trained chef and limousine business owner, I do have more than my fair share of cooking and hospitality experience and I wouldn't eat there again if I were STARVING to DEATH. My wedding guests CERTAINLY won't be subjected to a dining experience at Mungo's and the owner should seriously consider some etiquette lessons--which would be a tax write-off because it would help him manage both his restaurant and temper. I was so stunned that I didn't even think to get up and walk out--which astonished my husband to be who told me later that he was fully prepared to get up and walk out. This man has a LOT to learn about the restaurant business--treating customers badly explains why he can't afford a good chef, table linens and iced tea without crud in the bottom of the glass!
Food: 1 star
Service: 2 stars
Screaming and Possibly Drunken Owner: Unbelievable!

Dining Diva Review: Dewey's Pizza, Kirkwood Missouri

We visited Dewey's Pizza in Kirkwood, MO on Saturday and were delighted by the entire experience. There was a 10 minute wait for a table, which wasn't a big deal but we were surprised that the restaurant was so busy since Saturday lunch is historically the slowest day of the week for most places. We were seated at a booth that was spotlessly clean, (as was the restroom I visited while waiting for a table) given menus, and our drink order was taken promptly by our server, Annie. The menu was clear and concise and unusually informative, something I really appreciated as I like to know what's going to be on my plate. Even though there was a team service concept going on, Annie was our main server and returned quickly with our drinks. She patiently told us about the pizza and answered our questions even though they were very busy and when I asked for a slight variation on my salad, her "no problem" reply was instant and came with a genuine smile. She also told me that there would be a slight extra charge for what I wanted, which was no big deal--fifty cents--but it was nice to be told in advance and not get the check and see it there. I love informed consent! She left with our order and the other wait staff members refilled our drinks at half-full cheerfully, albeit hurriedly, as they were still slammed. My salad arrived promptly and was delicious and unusual. The usual iceberg lettuce was nowhere to be seen, but the cold, crisp mix of field greens was a pleasant change! Since I was unable to decide between the peppercorn ranch and the house balsamic vinaigrette, Annie brought me a waffle cup of each on the side, and as a sidebar, she is one of the best wait staff I've ever had at any restaurant. She could easily make the jump to fine dining at any 5 star establishment in the country, I was very impressed with her and hope she realizes her potential. Both of the dressings were so good that we saved them after the salad course, something I normally do NOT do.Annie also told us that we could have a half white and half red pizza, a choice I have never been given before and was delighted to have since I like both red and white pizza. I finished my salad and one of the server team (not Annie) whisked away my plate, but took my used silverware off of the plate and placed it back on the table--the ONLY service flaw in the entire experience, I would have expected clean silverware to be offered and if it wasn't, the dirty utensils removed--I left them on the salad plate for a reason. Service plates and extra napkins were left in advance of the arrival of the pie, and the plates were shiny clean. The pizza arrived and it was magnificent--plenty of toppings and perfectly done with a satisfyingly thick layer of cheese on both sides. I prefer my toppings under the cheese to hold them down and prevent them from escaping off the pie, but it's a minor point. The red side was spicy with just the right bite and amount of sauce and the white side was just as good with the hint of garlic that could have been stronger, but that's a personal preference. The crust was crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside and totally delicious--one of the best pizza crusts I have ever had. I'm ashamed to admit that we ate every single morsel of the pizza between the two of us--we are hogs to be sure--but we couldn't stop eating the delicious pizza which is why there is no dessert review included this time. Annie came by to make sure the pizza was the way we liked it and the tea refills were continued until we finished the pie and declined any further refills. The check was presented right after the empty pizza dish was removed, and the credit card was whisked away and returned for signature promptly but we were not rushed to leave even though they were STILL very busy. I have not had a service or dining experience to beat this one at any pizza establishment I have ever visited and it rates many returns and a top rating--the best I have ever given any pizza or family casual dining establishment in my life! Keep up the good word--I'm a customer forever! When I have 6 months to live, I am having my bed moved to the store!! I have also dined at their sister restaurant in University City Missouri and the food is just as good, but the service at the Kirkwood store is a little better. It's nice to see consistency in a chain!
Service 4.75 starsFood 5 stars

Dining Diva Review: Millenium Hotel Restaurant--A View To Die For, And A Chef Who Should be Shot!

City: St. Louis, Missouri, Top of the River Restaurant, Millennium Hotel.
My beloved husband and I went to celebrate our FIRST wedding anniversary tonight. He picked a restaurant that had a carousel top revolving 28 floors above the St. Louis streets: The Millennium Hotel's Top of the Riverfront. The Arch and the river made for a beautiful view as the sun slowly sank in the west and the lights of the big city came on as we watched. Our waitress Brenda was a darling, and the evening began with the promise of wine, romance and a sumptuous meal. But, sadly, like the song says, two out of three ain't bad. John did his very best and the romantic atmosphere was delightful--the view, starched white table linens and crystal clear goblets filled with a crisp German Riesling made for a wonderful beginning. Then the baby at the next table began to scream--and the evening that had started with such promise unraveled into an unparalleled dining disaster. We made our displeasure at having to listed to the screaming brat known to dear Brenda who did everything but toss the miserable spawn of Satan out the window to make the noise stop. My first instinct was to finish the wine and soup, pay the bill and leave but John said the periodic 110 decibel shrieks were tolerable so we stayed. I do not know why restaurants of this supposed calibre allow children under the age of 12 when the world is full of Denny's and McDonald's where even though screaming brats are still annoying, they are "family oriented". At $36 for a 9 oz filet, I don't want to hear anything but the lovely sound of the talented piano player. We asked if we could move but that apparently wasn't an option, but I digress. We started our dinner with the Apple Jack Onion soup which was topped with a thick and satisfying layer of melted cheese and two pieces of crispy garlic crostini. For some unknown reason, pieces of RAW purple onion were placed in the soup under the cheese, but after I picked them out, the soup had nice flavor even if they did add pepper by the boxful, but we like spicy food so it was an interesting twist on a classic recipe. The crisp Riesling was a nice counterpoint to the soup and the screams from the next table were intermittent and barely made me jump more than 2 or 3 inches. Brenda went to the table several times to try to quiet the demon seed, and to her credit (and tip) had some success in silencing the lamb and blowing them out of the restaurant in the way a good waitperson can do when s/he wants the table turned and fast! God bless Brenda. John ordered his steak medium and I opted for my standby of Pittsburgh rare (black and blue by any other name is still burnt and cold) and as I have come to expect in 99% of the steakhouses in the world, they didn't know how to do it. They did manage to make John's filet Mignon so raw that he barely nibbled around the edges (and to avoid the large chunk of gristle in the middle of his steak--the first time I've ever seen gristle in a filet Mignon) so that it wouldn't bite him back since it was still alive and brought mine out barely pink and minus the burnt crust that I so love--and am willing to forgo overcooked centers for that burnt flavor I crave. The first bite of my $30 steak was filled with gristle, the second bite flavorless and the third bite had another huge chunk of gristle and I didn't bother with a fourth. I didn't know that Dollar Tree had a meat section, but doubtless that's where the restaurant buys their steaks. The "Bearnaise" sauce was from a mix and tasted of flour and tarragon with none of the buttery tartness of a Bearnaise made with tarragon, wine vinegar and egg yolks with butter lovingly beat in to form the emulsion that makes Bearnaise sauce what angels dine on, the "Yukon gold" potatoes were ordinary white potatoes with no cheese flavor and I didn't bother to taste the lone baby carrot because I didn't care by then, so it might have been the world's best carrot ever--but I somehow doubt it. The 3 small asparagus spears were quite good though, they were the highlight of the meal. Brenda was mortified by the huge chunks of gristle and the errors in cooking and we ended up paying for the soup and the wine (and of course tipped her on the entire amount of what the bill was before they removed the steaks from the check) and then we left, John very disappointed in the food and me very disappointed that the wonderful evening that John planned for our first wedding anniversary went south since he had tried so hard to make it a special evening. He gets an A+ for effort because he really went to a lot of trouble, and I was astonished that the restaurant didn't require jacket and tie. I guess when your food is that bad, you let anyone in--squalling babies and jeans and flip flops are welcome. The view was breathtaking as the sun went down and the lights of the city came up, but the food ruins the whole experience. I expected so much more from this gorgeous venue, it was a total disappointment. I might go there to have some wine and watch the sunset but I'd never eat there again.
Service 3 stars
Food 1/2 star