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)