Monday, December 22, 2014

Lucky China

4038 Butler Hill Rd
St Louis, MO

Angel set us up for a weekend getaway at the Hampton Inn, a deluxe room with jacuzzi. This is the way we occasionally spoil ourselves. A simple plan. Get a great room, pick up some Chinese takeout, plug in the portable DVD player and binge watch season three of the TV series 'Justified'.
Most of that we could do at home, though not the jacuzzi part. However, the whole point was to get away  from distractions for one freakin' night. When you run a small business out of your home it is very, very easy to get distracted. Especially if that small business is populated by living, breathing, barking, furry animals.
The reason for this particular weekend was that my birthday was on Sunday.
Adam's was the day after, so leaving him alone at the house was as much a treat for him.
Angel had assumed the hotel was in Arnold. So we drove there. Oops, that's a Drury Inn, we were booked in a Hampton. So she fired up Tina, her new Tom-Tom GPS device and saw that we were about three miles away.
So up Lemay Ferry we went, just across the Meramec River into St. Louis County, then onto Butler Hill road and there it was.
The Place:
She'd checked ahead for a decent Chinese takeout place, but it was back in Arnold. So when we checked in, I asked the very helpful lady at the desk if there were any nearby Chinese places. She handed me a list of about twenty nearby restaurants with phone numbers. There were six or seven Chinese places on the list.
We saw a Walgreens from the hotel, Angel said she needed to pick something up anyhow, so we took a chance and just drove to it, hoping we'd see something on the way or nearby.
Just across from the Walgreens was a small shopping center, sure enough, in big bright red letters: 'Chinese Food'.
This is of course, kind of risky. Some Chinese places just aren't as good as others. Most don't have web sites so it's a little tough doing advance research. We didn't know this area very well either, so we didn't even have a recommendation.
There was a multi-page menu taped to the front window so we studied it first. It seemed to have everything we were after, so we crossed our fingers and marched in.

The Food:
A young Chinese man stepped up to the counter. Behind the counter, sitting on the floor, was an adorable little girl of about three or four, or maybe five or six, I can't tell anymore, poking away at an E-tablet. She also had earbuds in so she was completely absorbed and never even looked up.
Angel pointed at things on the counter menu, choosing three combo meals.
Yeah, three. It's the way we do things when we want a buffet but we want it at home. So she first asked for General Tso's, because sesame gets really, really sickly sweet after a while. next was the 'Cashew style' otherwise known as 'Springfield style' for those of us who know the center of the American style Chinese food universe. Then she picked a new one, Shrimp in Lobster Sauce. I liked the sound of that.
Each combo meal came with a couple of sides so when you do this, you get a pretty good variety. Fried rice, white rice and in this case, crab Rangoon.
We'd pre-packed a few paper plates and some real silverware, because we've done this before.
There was of course, about a ten minute wait. That's when I decided that we might be reviewing the place, if and only if it turned out to be good. This was a vacation and I didn't want to spoil it by blogging, so I hadn't planned on reviewing anything. But I had a feeling. So I went out front and started taking photos, just in case.
Soon enough, the food was brought out in a single thick bag by a young lady whose English was still a little rough, but we could make out that it sounded like what we ordered.
We got to the room, and laid out the spread on the buffet table. Well, okay, it was a desk, but a really wide one. As Angel opened everything I fiddled with the portable DVD and got it going on the big, swiveling, wall mounted flat panel.
I said it was a deluxe room, right?
"Wow." she said. I looked down. The containers were opened and what it was, well, 'pretty'. We're more accustomed to 'dump it into the bucket' joints. This actually looked arranged.
The glaze on the General's was beautiful, the bright steamed broccoli (blech!) lined up between the chicken and the rice. The rice itself was highlighted by some generous chunks of chicken.
The cashew style was generous with finely chopped veggies, it even had some of those tiny ears of corn. The Shrimp was enormous and bathed in a soup like sauce.
The wontons were all identically hand folded into a floral style.
It was almost too pretty to disturb.
We each filled our plates with a little of almost everything and pressed 'play' on the portable DVD.
Deputy U.S. Marshall Rayland Givens started off all fists and guns and hillbillies pushing dope and shooting each other. Perfect.
The best thing on the buffet, at least the thing that stood out the most, was the rangoons. They were crispy on all sides. Most places can't keep the bottoms crispy, Lucky had this perfect. All of them, the bottom as crisp as the edges.
It was all very, very good. Noticeably good, stand out good.
I was planning to take the weekend off. The only reason I reviewed this place at all was because it was just that much better than most Chinese places. You know the ones I'm talking about. Everyone knows a place or two that they've tried once and decided never to go back to, even if that meant driving a little farther.
Hillsboro has one of those. We ordered there once, never again. I've never reviewed it or uttered it's name and I don't plan on ever reviewing it. I just don't care for Chinese food when I know it is going to be disappointing.
But Lucky is a standout. If there weren't thirty other Chinese joints between my house and Lucky's I'd make it our new go-to place. We will certainly go there again whenever we make it back up to that particular area of South County.

In the morning we had some complimentary coffee, packed up and headed out. We decided to find some breakfast. Angel had located a Denny's down the road. I mean, road breakfast = Denny's right?
So we went in to the really crowded and busy place, were seated and offered drinks. I needed more coffee, we'd watched a LOT of 'Justified' the night before. Angel asked for orange juice.
We glanced at the seasonal menu appendix. Not being a fan of 'pumpkin' as a flavor, in anything, we both quickly passed on that card.
In the main menu, I thought for a moment about the country fried steak, but settled for a grand slam instead. Four breakfast items any combination. I went for biscuit, bacon, hash browns and two eggs, over medium. Angel also asked for hash browns to go with her scrambled eggs, ham and English muffin.
I thought about asking for juice too, the coffee didn't seem to be very good. Not old or bitter, just not right, maybe too weak.
The eggs weren't pretty like those you get at Waffle House, they were dull and flat. There was about a pound of butter in a ramekin for the one biscuit and there were more hash browns than anything else. A disproportionate amount. As far as feeding the eye this was not as pretty as the pictures. It looked rushed and unenthusiastic. The hash browns were done, but just barely. We like them crisp at least a little bit. They weren't bad, but they sure could have used a little more time on the grill. The eggs, a little less, it was barely runny. We were fed, but not quite pleased.
Waffle House would have been a much better choice.

Post-Epilogue Final Wrap-up and. Conclusion:
 Overall it was quite a nice weekend getaway. We had a good time, had time to really relax, got plenty of uninterrupted sleep. We were still talking about the previous evening's 'buffet' on the short drive home. We were packing leftovers.
So if anyone asks, I'm proud to say we 'got Lucky' that night and recommend everyone we know to do the same.

Lucky China on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2014

Poppy's Ristorante

2000 N. Truman Blvd.
Festus, Mo.
On the Web
On Facebook

Somehow, it seems we end up at Poppy's in the winter. Not by any master plan, mind you. We here  at Eat and Critique World Headquarters have never had a master plan, or even a minor plan.
But Poppy's makes me think of the holiday season.
Maybe it's the heavy oak decor that frames garlands perfectly.
The Place:
It is a beautiful restaurant. Oak floors, thick, carved oak booths and bar, stained glass and Tiffany lamps, tasteful, soft framed artwork, modest chandeliers.
You really do forget that you are next door to a bowling alley.
It has a very upscale feel to it. The secret though is that price-wise it is very reasonable.
We entered and saw that it was busy. A group of tables had been lined up to accommodate a party of fourteen senior citizens. They were nicely dressed, most wore bright red sweaters which looked very jolly alongside the quaffed silver hair of the ladies.
We were led to a nearby booth at the front, near the bar. The scurrying staff were sharply dressed in all black.
Lindsay was to be our server. Yes, I am spelling that correctly, she insisted when she saw me writing it down.
She offered drinks, we responded with tea, tea and Pepsi. She handed us menus. I'd looked it over earlier in the day online, Angel and Adam had not. We had all agreed to try something other the the usual thing we got there. I usually get the cannelloni. I was really going to mix it up this visit.
Our tea and a basket of rolls arrived. I noticed the tea, it looked, perfect, so I sipped it. It was. One big point for Poppy's and we hadn't even ordered yet
Overhead a familiar tune played just over the din of the party of 14. "Pachelbel?" Angel asked. "Yes." I proudly answered. I didn't add that Pachelbel was merely the composer's name and that the name of the tune was, casually, Canon in D Major, formally, Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo, and in original German, Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalba. Knowing things like this are not license to actually mention them in casual conversation, some people think that sort of thing is snooty. I first heard it and fell in love with it back in the early 80's after Carl Sagan used it and several other lesser know classical pieces in his landmark series 'Cosmos'. That now used-to-death-at-weddings song was followed up by a series of classic Christmas songs. Normally when shrouded by a marathon of these songs I tense up and start swearing. Not that I have anything in particular against most of the songs individually, it's the month long deluge of them that raises my hackles. Fortunately it wasn't very loud, so I managed to tune it out for the most part by eavesdropping on the party of fourteen. I didn't learn much from them. It turns out they weren't really very interesting people.

The Food:
We had the usual appetizer, toasted ravioli. Poppy's version is pretty good, crispy, meaty, with a chunky marinara. They came with an overabundant amount of the sauce. This would be an ominous portent of things to come. . .
The rolls were simply excellent. Nothing fancy, just a basic dinner roll, but warm and tender. The basket they came in also had some condiment packets of both butter and 'spread'.
We ordered.
Me: Spaghetti and Meatballs, and a 'Combination Salad' with the house dressing. Yes, spaghetti. I rarely order spaghetti at Italian restaurants, but it is the standard that all Italian eateries should be able to master. I had a mediocre spaghetti plate at the recently opened and reviewed Pasta House, and I skewered them for only having a mediocre version. I can make spaghetti, it's my go to Sunday dinner at home. I make it better than mediocre and can expect no less from an Italian Restaurant.
Angel:Tortellini Alla Panna (Tortellini with Cream) and a shrimp salad. Lindsay replied by saying they didn't have a shrimp salad. "No, no I meant spinach, not shrimp." She laughed at herself. Angel laughs at herself fairly often. It's part of her charm, she never ceases to amuse herself. I sometimes wish I could pleasure myself so completely. I tend to self abuse a lot.
Adam: One of the 'Specialty' pastas, Lemon Basil Rigatoni and a Caesar side salad.
Lindsay trotted off. I started taking notes and when it came to their orders I asked Angel which salad  she had asked for. Predictably she again said 'shrimp'. We laughed and laughed.
Meanwhile I noticed that of the six occupied tables I could see, our server seemed to be responsible for two, ours and the party of fourteen. Not a great plan. Large parties like that, and even more so by parties of successful senior citizens, are rather high maintenance. I first noticed this a few months back at an Olive Garden in Paducah, Ky. Our server there was worn out and frequently out of sight taking care of a large table full. Though we sympathized, we also find it a weak excuse. Surely these places know how much work a large party is, surely they should free up the server(s) of those tables from also having to take care of an additional, less demanding couple or trio.
Lindsay handled it well though. More on that later.
The salads came on small plates. The greens on mine were fresh, though the little tomatoes looked a day or two past prime. When I tried to cut the rough torn lettuce, quite a bit fell off the saucer. There was not enough saucer for the pile of salad in front of me. I could barely move the stuff around
without losing some overboard. The salad was very good, especially the sweet house dressing. The portion was too large though, for the plate and the meal.
Angel's was prettier than mine. Piled high shrimp . . . just kidding, spinach, sliced mushrooms and egg, crumbled bacon and large croutons. Hers too was more than ample. Too big really, for a 'side' salad, and falling off the plate. Adam started his by picking the mushrooms off his Caesar. He hadn't noticed the ingredient when he ordered it. Who puts mushrooms on a Caesar salad? He didn't have much of it, he said the dressing tasted a bit different from what he was accustomed to.
None of us finished our salads, we started them cautiously since pasta is very, very filling and we'd all ordered pasta as a main course. When we go to Ruby Tuesday's which has the best salad bar in the world, we order small meals since we know we are going to mega-load at the salad bar. As I said, mine was quite good, just too much.
The main courses arrived in a timely manner. The plates were more like serving bowls than dinner
Lemon Basil Rigatoni
plates. Mine had three or four large meatballs and was generously coated with a red meat sauce with noticeable tomato pulp. I like it like that. I cut open one of the meatballs and tried it first. Excellent, a blend of meats, definitely pork and probably some beef. The menu didn't describe it, so I'm going by what my highly skilled mouth tells me. The sauce tasted very good. Maybe not the best I've had, but certainly better than the generic, short-cut-laden stuff Pasta House served up.
Adam ate his with a puzzled look on his face. "For Lemon Basil pasta, I taste neither lemon nor basil." He reported. Mostly he tasted the white wine and olive oil.
Angel dived into hers. She didn't say anything about it for a while. We all noted that there was way more on our plates than we'd ever finish. When she did say something it was not especially positive. "Sort of dry in the middle, maybe it's the cheese."
I was full. I looked down at my plate and it looked like I hadn't even started. I felt embarrassed that I ate so relatively little of it. I just couldn't eat anymore though. I shoved it around to try to make it look like I'd had more than I did, like I did as a kid when given something I didn't like. The effort was futile though. I dug around into the vast depths of the bowl and realized I was served more spaghetti than I usually make for an entire family meal and even then there's some left over.
Well, I guess you can see where this is going.
We in flyover country are often stereotyped, and not completely inaccurately, as being among other things, fat. Our meals typically consist of laboring family fare, meat, potatoes, bread, gravy. Big portions of everything, the starchier the better. The problem is that not very many of us get up in the morning and work the fields for fourteen hours per day any more. We were a little slow in adapting our meals to fit a far less active life style. But here's the news. We get it. We may have been a bit late to the party, but in droves we're noticing what we're putting into ourselves. More important than what, is how much of what.
Just ask the burger chains. Even the king of those beasts, McDonald's, is starting to struggle with
Finish point
declining numbers. They're rushing to adapt menus to a new paradigm. People are just no longer slavishly stuffing themselves with the calorie bombs that served them so well for decades. People are eating there less. Big Mc is actually considering offering fresher, healthier food. This time they may actually mean it.
My thoughts on this are not limited or unique to Poppy's, at all. As far as taste goes, they were better than most. But the serving size was simply staggering. I asked around, my sources close to the local industry tell me that Poppy's keeps a LOT of takeaway boxes on hand. That itself should tell them something.
When I opened up the box for my late lunch/early dinner on Sunday, I heated up my typical amount for a home spaghetti meal. There was still more than half of the original serving left in the box.
Isn't too much food a good thing?
No. I found it embarrassing, intimidating and more importantly, wasteful. Prepared pasta dishes don't keep or reheat well at home. Chances are very good that more than half of what we ordered will be thrown away.
There's just no need for that. Sure it's pretty cheap to make, but I would have been satisfied to pay the same amount for one third to one fourth the serving size.
Enough of that for now.
The tab was very, very reasonable, especially if you compare it to the tonnage of food. Even if appropriately sized, the price would have been decent, Sixty three bucks for three entrees, side salads, drinks and an appetizer. Also, we had a $5 coupon thanks to being on their mailing list.
Lindsay did an amazing job, especially considering she was being throttled by that party of 14 boring people.
The comments I made about the food we did get should be filtered against an earlier comment. We all deliberately ordered things we'd not had there before. My spag was fine, but I like my usual, the  cannelloni better, etc. So this was partially a matter of us being bold and experimental.
Poppy's is very nice and quite good. A little better floor management and some adjusting of portion sizes would do them well. Please, offer different sizes of the pasta dishes. Some of us are actually trying to tone it down some. Let those that want a full box of pasta for themselves pay a higher price for the privilege. Nine bucks for a standard sized plate of tasty pasta is about right. A serving platter that could feed four should cost more.  More is not better.
Other than that, Poppy's is a fine place to go, above average in quality. It makes Pasta House look like Fazolis. Well, maybe not that bad.

*Monday. Sure enough the three boxes, still weighing several pounds cumulatively, are now in the dumpster. Angel tried reheating some, but it stuck together, as things like that (flour+water=paste) are apt to do. I'd scraped all the meat sauce out of mine to coat the one reheat I did yesterday, Adam wasn't real happy with the recipe on his to begin with. Bigger just does not equal better, sometimes super sizing is compensation for lack of quality.

Poppy's Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 8, 2014

Taytro's Bar and Bistro

343 North Creek Drive
Festus, Mo.
On the Interwebs
On the Facebook

Often mentioned by locals in social media discussions as one of the most recommended eateries in Jefferson County. Trattoria Giuseppe is usually mentioned as well. I concur. These two places pop to the top of my mind when queried as well, though there's a couple of places in DeSoto that are very close runners-up.
Giuseppe's is a make a reservation, sit-down, multi-course full Italian restaurant. Taytro's, as the name suggests, is a bar and bistro. Whereas Giuseppe's is high end dishes, Taytro's is more working class food, made extremely well.
Taytro's is by design, New Orleans style. The place to go in the area for jambalaya, po' boys and etouffee.
The Place:
Top of the hill above Highway A (Veteran's Blvd) near the intersection of 67 (Truman).  An unassuming place in a stand of standard, modern strip mall shops. We got there a bit early, we had other things to do while out. We weren't dragging the boys with us this time. This allowed us to loosen up a little more than usual, let our hair down, in our own way. By that I mean we looked around the flooring department at Lowes. The kind of stuff young bucks just don't have the patience for.
We went in and were seated by a young lady. There were several tables open, we got one in the middle of the floor. There was noise coming from the nearby bar. A few adults imbibing adult beverages and whooping it up a little to a sports game on the overhead TV. Fortunately it was muted,  unfortunately, the patrons were not. As best as I could make out it was football, American style, a game between Alabama and something that was referred to as a 'Mizzou'. The people at the bar seemed to be enjoying it though.
Yes, I know what a 'Mizzou' is. I just can't be vocally supportive of the state's biggest school since I have never had any affiliation it it other than sending precious and generous tax dollars to it. It would be blasphemous to root for a college other than those where I matriculated, even though to my knowledge Wayland Baptist University, (Plainview, TX) doesn't even field a team and The university of Southern California, where I did my graduate work, is just too far away to really care about and it's a bit embarrassing to cheer for a team that is named after a popular brand of prophylactics. I can only imagine the mascot.
As is their custom around holiday time Taytro's had thrown up some tinsel and garlands, a few lights, not too much though.
Pretty soon Claire came by and asked about drinks and appetizers. We both asked for tea and said no thanks to the latter.
I listened to the music a bit, pretty good, 'Ain't No Sunshine', 'Somethin's Got a Hold on Me'. . . cool stuff. The best of the evening was undoubtedly 'The Banana Boat Song' (Day-o) that had even the bartender, a goth-y, tattooed lady, dancing around like they did in the movie 'Betelgeuse'.
I was jumping around on the menu. Truth be told, I wasn't feeling very well. I hadn't eaten since breakfast (apple pancakes! Mmmm!) but I was feeling a little queasy. I didn't want anything heavy.
The Food:
I picked at the menu selections, finding fault with everything, too bready too ricey, didn't care much for this and that. When Claire returned for the second time I said "Sure, a catfish po' boy and chips, please."
Angel opted for the shrimp etouffee, she usually gets the crawfish version. She added the house salad, which is about the best house salad in the county. They use a sweet, poppy seed dressing that is to die for.
I knew immediately that I'd be asking for a box. I wasn't nearly hungry enough to finish an entire sandwich.
Angel's salad came out promptly, I watched the people watch football.
It wasn't very long before the main courses arrived. Sure enough my sammich looked enormous. Two full
crisp, golden catfish planks, lettuce, tomato slices a light dose of chipotle mayo. The still-warm, freshly made chips were a deep brown and lightly spiced. . . these are some awfully good chips. But boy was that a big sandwich. I cut it in half.
I love catfish. It's not a western Kentucky river-kid thing. I hated it when I was young. The only kind of fish I ever ate while growing up and even into early adulthood were tuna and fish sticks. Somewhere though I discovered the earthy flavor and texture that I often crave now.
When you order catfish in a restaurant, it is probably either a channel cat or a blue cat. These fish grow fast and they grow big, up to four feet, and have been known to attack human divers. Being opportunistic eaters, they'll go after just about anything that gets their attention. Though they have relatively small eyes, even big strong eyes could not see far on a silty river bottom, they use their 'whiskers'  (barbels) as range and direction finding food antennae. They can sense vibration and chemically analyze the water for the presence of nearby food sources. A pretty amazing critter. And tasty.
I cut the sandwich and bit in. The fish was perfectly cooked. only lightly breaded, it was crispy followed by moist, flaky white fish meat. I usually prefer catfish in nugget form, to dip into tartar sauce, but even a plank is pretty good. The bread, as I suspected, was rather dense and thick. It was going to slow me down. I've gotten to a point where, even though I like bread, I even still own and use a bread maker, I don't like the trend of putting sandwiches on mile-thick buns. Half the thickness of this would have been just fine. But the fish was spot-on.
Angel's stew-like etouffee had plenty of grill blackened shrimp along with onion, celery, bell peppers, andouille sausage and garlic, in a white wine, butter and cream sauce served over a couple of ice cream scoops worth of white rice. The buttered and grilled toast they serve with many of the dishes is awesome.
Compared to the crawfish version that she usually gets, she said "The crawfish seems more authentic." But admitted the grill job on the shrimp made up for a lot of that. She cleaned her plate.
As for me, I barely made it through the first half of the sandwich, and only about a third of the chips. Like I said, I was queasy.
Claire took very good care of us. Our food arrived complete, correct and in a timely manner. Our refills were appropriate and the chit-chat was minimal yet friendly. The rest of the staff seemed dutiful and competent, down to the hostess who, between new customer arrivals, busied herself standing in a tall bar chair updating the overhead chalk board with the evening specials, which at one interruption touted only 'Stuffed'.
The bill came in at a modest and appropriate thirty bucks and change. Not bad at all. Plenty of really good food for that price.
Taytro's has been near the top of our list since it first opened a few years back. We take visiting family there and recommend it to others. The powerful combination of very well made, unique (for the area) dishes, a decent bar, good, friendly  service and of course, the frequent live music (which we've never actually heard) makes it a very popular joint. It is modern, clean and convenient.
And the tea isn't awful.

Taytro's Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2014

Los Portales

201 Second Street
Hillsboro, Mo.

The weekend prior to this one, it had snowed. This weekend it was warmer, but windier and it had started to rain. After that snowfall, Angel had to sweep and scrape the snow and ice off of her windshield, rather aggressively. As we started into Hillsboro she turned on the wipers. The one on the passenger started making a funny noise and was soon flopping around like a snake on fire. She pulled over and shoved it back onto it's stem, got back in and drove another half mile. Then the drivers side wiper started doing the same thing. She stopped, got out and corrected it. About two miles later, just down the hill from Hillsboro, the first one started flopping again. She must have damaged them removing the snow and ice earlier in the week.
"Why don't you try your luck this time?" She urged. She pulled over, again. It took me a few moments to get out of the car, I couldn't figure out the door lock. She'd obviously called on a master mechanic to solve the wiper problem.
After comparing this wiper with the other one, I determined there was a critical piece missing. Perhaps its exhaust manifold or timing chain, or one of those other car parts I've heard about on 'Car Talk' and 'Top Gear'. I stood the bare stem upright so it wouldn't scrape the glass. The bare arm jogged back and forth. I suggested we put a glove on it so people would think we were waving. Angel was in no mood for my rapier wit. She was mumbling curses at the car. "I just paid it off, now it's just going to fall apart." and "You have one simple job you B&%$#!! wipers, one *^#$$ job."
We half-wiped and waved the last mile and found a parking spot on the street. Angel was in a mood. I dared not cross her the rest of the evening.
The Place:
Los Portales is the closest restaurant, in any direction, from our house. We were on a tight time frame, dog arrivals and departures were scheduled. We'd been often enough to know it was fast, cheap and satisfying.
The boys were with us again, Larry had never been to LP. I'm not even sure they have Mexican food in his hometown in central Tennessee. Adam, also a picky eater, had convinced him that there would be stuff he would like.
We went in and were led through the smoking area/bar to the main dining area. We took a booth, I picked one with the brightest beer neon in the window above it. I needed more than the ambient room light to take high quality photos with my magic tablet device.
We were handed menus, like we really needed them, and asked about drinks. I always forget that they make lousy tea, so I always order it. This night was no different.
Soon the drinks, chips and salsa arrived. I could sit there for nothing else but a good drink, maybe a margarita, I heard they make the best in the area, and the chips and salsa. But that would be rude.
Larry ate a bare chip. I looked at him accusingly. "I'm not a salsa person." he answered. Tennesseans, what curious fools they are. 
We ordered our meals and munched on chips. I listened to the always authentic music overhead. I asked Adam to 'Shazam' the music. Shazam is an app that listens to music, then goes out to the interwebs and finds the song and artist. I have it on my awesome tablet machine, but Los Portales has no WiFi. Adam has one of those 'smart' cellular telephones you may have heard about. These things not only make telephone calls, but they run apps as well. What will they think of next? He harrumphed at me at the thought, but like a good, decent if not completely filial son, he fired it up. It found the song and performer in mere seconds. 'El Siete Leguas' by Antonio Aguilar.  The title refers to a story about  Pancho Villa. Siete Leguas (Seven Leagues) was his horse's name, the story having to do with corruption, coercion and gunfights. A real lively number, trumpets, guitars, male crooners, the usual. I love it.
Another song started up. Shazam found it quickly as well, 'El Parrandero Enamorado' (Roughly, 'The Love Spree.'  That sounds dirty.) By the group 'Control.' Also a very upbeat and lively song.
Yeah, I could sit here, sip a fruity beverage, munch on chips and just bang my head to the great music.
The Food:
Me: #5 One chicken enchilada, one taco, beans and rice.
Angel: Enchiladas Supreme, Three enchiladas, one chesse, one bean, one beef, topped with lettuce and Ranchera sauce.
Adam: Half order of nachos and a chicken taco.
Larry: 3 beef enchiladas, a beef taco and a side of fries. Yeah, French fries. . . Tennesseans.
Food delivery is pretty quick at Los Portales. Most of the stuff is made in batches and assembled and plated to order. We hadn't even finished the chips when the meals arrived.
There's nothing fancy or dolled up on these plates, the food is simple, basic and deliberately not too spicy hot. The menu rather firmly states that ". . . all dishes are meticulously prepared with an authentic, but mild flavor. For those who like it hot we put hot sauce on the table."
I don't mind, I prefer it mild.
Lots of beans and rice on my plate, topped with that oozy, melty white cheese. A rich red sauce coated the enchilada, cheese and beef, the only ingredients in the taco, fell out the side of a crispy, thin shell.
Angel's was a real plateful. Lots of chopped lettuce and tomato and sour cream over the enchiladas, little nuggets of cheese scattered around. I didn't think she'd be able to finish it. She launched into it like a hungry sailor though, this seemed to assuage her foul mood a little.  "Always good, I like my three kinds of enchiladas."
Adam ran out of actual nacho chips well before the lettuce, etc. were used up. "It's hard to complain though." He said, pointing to the half full basket of chips in front of us. He loves the way LP prepares the chicken.
Larry was less vocal and enthusiastic. We'd all tried his fries and decided that though well fried, they were once frozen. They had that distinct one-off taste and texture you get with frozen potato products. Larry shrugged his shoulders though. Adam pointed out that this was a Mexican restaurant, not a burger chain. To complain about the fries here would be like complaining about the soup at a pizza joint. Otherwise he was more happy with the taco than the enchiladas.
I'm going to disqualify myself from the judgment round. I didn't come even close to finishing my meal. I'd made a strategic mistake earlier in the day. I had lunch. I don't usually eat lunch on Saturdays before these meals, but I broke this time. Angel had made up a big batch of Cream of Crab soup on Friday. Need I say more? I'd rather have cream of crab soup than most every other food, most sex, most good books, most years of my life. I couldn't not have some, the last creamy drop, for lunch. I had buttery crackers with it as well, since it was Saturday, so I was still carb-crammed by the time the evening meal came around. I really just wasn't hungry. When you're not really hungry, food just doesn't taste right. Well, except for pie. Pie, and by that I mean apple pie, since I am an American. Pie is good any time. If I were in charge of my life I would have coffee and pie twice or more per day, every day. Sure it would fatten me up and clog my arteries and eventually kill me, but I will have died after having plenty of pie. There are far sadder, sillier and more senseless ways to die.
Larry was not overly impressed. Angel was delighted, Adam loves the way they prepare their chicken, I like the music. The food is probably not the best there is, but it is good, close to  home and cheap. Four full meals for thirty six bucks. The service is okay, they take care of things and check for refills and such. They kind of vanished when it was time for the ticket, but we just went up to the counter/bar and they dug it out.
It is certainly the best Mexican food in town, in fact, for several miles in any direction. I've heard from a few contacts about bad experiences there, but have never had a significant problem myself. The place is smokey, so if that is an issue for you then there might be a problem. It's a very popular get together joint and watering hole, so it has a solid, steady clientele.
Still recommended!


Epilogue: On Sunday I went to the finest auto parts store I know of in the area, Walmart, and picked out a brand new pair of wipers for her SUV, the most expensive brand in the store, since high price=high quality. I even installed them for her, in the rain. Well, she did have to show me how to get the old one off,  but after that I finished the installation all by myself. Nothing but the best for My sweetie!

Los Portales‎ on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pasta House

1806 Galemore St.
Festus, Mo.
On the Web
On Facebook

This one is complicated. Very complicated.
Pasta House is a regional chain, headquartered in St. Louis. Founded in 1974 it now has around twenty locations, most in the Metro St. Louis region. Some of the locations are owned by PH, others are independently owned franchises.
We were excited to find out they were building one in Festus. More excited that the location was on Highway A, before you actually get to Festus. During our frequent trips to the town, we watched the progress. It went pretty slow, about a year or more in construction.
Finally, Angel noticed the 'Now Open' sign flashing. So as far as deciding where to go, this was an easy week.
I'd looked at the online menu ahead of time, so I was properly prepared. We invited the boys, Adam and his friend that I call Larry.
I was a bit groggy after a very heavy nap. I'd been up at 2 A.M. for a couple of hours tending to a regular work thing, system checks. Angel and the boys made fun of me because when I'm in this state I tend to incomprehensibly mumble.
The Place:
It was dark, early for dinner service, around 5 P.M. The parking lot was nearly full. This was their first weekend being open, I supposed we weren't the only anxious ones.
We could have gone to any of the other locations, we just never had. Angel had looked at the online menu as well and was relieved to find out that it was not fast-foody. She was worried that it would be like Fazoli's, that place is simply awful.
The building was brand new, it still had that new Italian Restaurant smell to it. As we went in we saw the line. Angel asked, they said it would only be about a five minute wait. The front section is a well appointed bar with about a dozen high bistro tables and chairs. People were not only drinking at the tables but also having their meals.
Sure enough we only waited a little more than five minutes before we were called. I'd spent the time sizing up the crew. The manager was easy, better dressed than the floor crew, black shirts and jeans for them. Among the mostly young ladies a couple appeared to be go-to people that the others paid heed to. I like to know who's in charge.
We were led to a four-top barely inside the dining area. Sure enough the place was packed, the din was almost rowdy sports bar-like. Lots of families, lots of very young kids in high chairs. One of the tots was banging a spoon on the tray, something that got very old and annoying very fast.
Directly overhead was a stock ceiling speaker belting out big band music, Moonlight Serenade at the time and a very bad rendition of it. Either the recording or the sound system was murdering it with clicks and pops and squashed bars, those that know audio would call it overdrive distortion. It was  made worse by the fact that the volume was up too high for dining anyhow. Along with the loud diners, the music made me uncomfortable, I don't like loud places.
I was reminded that PH was to get certain breaks in the review. This was a new crew, a new restaurant and it was their first weekend open. So any griping I make about the service are only for comparison at a later date.
One thing we did notice to their credit was how quickly they turned tables. It explained the short wait. The last crumbs had barely hit the floor before the table was being bussed.
Another lady came by and handed us menus and asked about drinks. Tea, Sweet tea and two Cokes. A bit later she brought them and we ordered an appetizer, toasted ravioli because St. Louis.
It didn't take long to decide, I knew going in what I was getting.
The Food:
Me: Spaghetti Bolognese, small, no salad.
Angel: Tutto Mare
Adam: Volcano (Hot wing and ranch) Pizza
Larry: Bacon Cheddar Burger and fries.
For those not as smart about Italian dishes as we experts are, I'll translate. Bolognese is not baloney and mayonnaise, it is a meaty tomato sauce.  When I make spaghetti at home, which I do fairly often, this is what I make. At home, we just call it 'spaghetti'.
Tutto Mare is not horse meat, it is actually seafood over pasta. Tutto mare means roughly, 'all sea'. Clams, shrimp, scallops, that sort of thing. It's usually in a creamy sauce.
If I have to explain burgers and pizza to you then you should just leave my beloved country, right now.
The ravioli arrived in a long white plate. alongside was a think, almost chunky marinara for dipping. Angel had ordered the twelve-piece so there was plenty for everyone. I pulled two off the plate, dipped them each twice at right angles, and dropped them onto the little appetizer plate we'd been given.
They were not as crispy as I thought they would be. I expected a crunch, but it never came. The taste was very good, the pasta seemed fresh, but for me it seemed a bit rubbery. No one else complained, in fact they sort of dismissed my assessment altogether. So maybe it was just me.
We finished them up fairly quickly, then the real wait began. A new place, new crew, new kitchen I would have been completely surprised if there had not been a longer than 'normal' wait. Fortunately we had devices and the PH guest WiFi was quick and strong.
As we browsed, I took time to look around at the decor. Mostly photos and a  lot of huge movie posters, mostly in Italian or for spaghetti westerns from the 60's and 70's. One photo confused me, it was of Marlon Brando. I was never a really big fan but I do know that Brando is not Italian. He was born in Nebraska and his ancestry was all German, Dutch, etc. Like I said, I was not a big fan of the big man, but the only thing I could think of is that he might have been in a movie in or about Italy. . .  I'll have to look it up sometime.
The floors were enormous earth-tone tiles, the walls were painted a glossy dark yellow, the tables and chairs were black. It was properly lit, not too bright, not too dim. More than anything though it was loud.
There seemed to be ample staff, all running around bouncing from table to table. Another man stepped out of the kitchen and stood watch, a definite authority figure as well. He and the other man I'd pegged as a manager held several discussions, but mostly they scanned the dining area like hawks on a post.
Several minutes passed, and by several, I mean about forty five, from the time we were handed menus until
the entrees arrived. Just before the entrees showed up the new manager guy spotted me looking around and rushed over, apologized for the wait and ordered someone to go grab us some rolls.
We were served a saucer full of assorted, condiment style butter containers. then a lady came along behind us with a basket full of rolls and tonged two apiece into our appetizer plates. They were warm, almost hot and smelled heavenly, like fresh baked bread should. I cracked open one of them, the crust was pleasantly crispy, and scraped the entire contents of a butter tub into each one. Mmmm, melty butter. They were tasty, but our enjoyment was short lived as a solo act as the main course finally came.
My spaghetti and Angel's seafood pasta looked correct. After just a moment though I saw it, very disappointed. When I scooped some of the pasta toward the middle of the dish, a watery puddle formed. This wasn't because the sauce itself was watery, it was because the pasta had not been thoroughly drained before plating. I was able to stir it all around and it mixed in a little better, but it weakened the sauce.
Not that it could stand much weakening. The pasta was cooked correctly, well maybe a little overdone, and the sauce tasted just fine. . . which for me is not a compliment. As I said earlier, I make spaghetti quite often. I know a good sauce and I know a really good sauce. This was cafeteria sauce. Perfectly adequate for a modest meal, but hardly up to the depth of flavor and texture you'll find at a hundred other local Italian places. It was  red sauce and ground meat. I could detect no peppers, celery, garlic, onions etc.
This was really disappointing compared to the quite-nice marinara dipping sauce we'd had earlier, that had been almost salsa-thick. This sauce was really not any better than some of the better canned sauces at a grocery store. Not that there's anything wrong with canned sauce, I use it myself, as a starter. I always add peppers, onions, garlic, celery, etc. But when you go out to eat, especially at a place called 'Pasta House' you expect something a little better, richer, deeper. . . is that asking too much?
Angel was quite happy with her tutto mare. She especially liked the fact that the clams were not in the shell. It makes a pettier plate with clams in-shell, but it is sort of a hassle to de-shell them. There was plenty of shrimp as well, and as she does with this dish she fished all the meaty bits out without eating more than half the pasta.
That's completely normal. Neither of us ever finish our pasta. Even though mine was a 'small' I knew I couldn't hold that much heavy, starchy stuff, especially after the excellent rolls. At home I serve twice as much sauce as I got at PH and half as much noodles. I had the same problem with ratio at an Olive Garden a few weeks back the taste was okay, but the pasta to sauce proportions were just not in-whack.
I asked the boys about theirs. Larry was guarded, though he finally confessed that he wasn't very impressed with the burger. A bit bland. He didn't care very much for the fries either, though he stopped short of saying he didn't like them.
Adam had a few slices of his odd looking pizza, thin, paper thin crust,
chunks of hot wings and a pale beige sauce, Ranch Dressing, I believe. He really didn't care for the celery chunks on it. He said he got it, that hot wings are often served with a side of celery sticks and Ranch dipping sauce, but he said the celery taste overwhelmed his taste buds. He plucked the chunks off, said he wished they, like with wings, had been served on the side instead of cooked in with the pizza. other than that he said it was pretty good, but would not compare it to other places.
We argued a while about whether or not celery had a strong taste, when I cook I almost always cook with celery and have always thought of it as subtle. We finally decided that Adam just has weird taste buds.
I said at the beginning that this was complicated. You see, I want places to succeed, I want a new place to be good. I'd heard good things about PH, but was not prepared for it being as lackluster as it turned out to be. It wasn't that anything was bad, there just wasn't anything there that I cannot get better versions of in other places. For Angel, it was the ambiance. I agree with that as a problem. It's too noisy, it lacks that cozy, candlelit, rough around the edges atmosphere you find at the many trattorias in the area. Sure, it cost a little less, more on par with Olive Garden, (around $16 per head plus the appetizer) maybe less, but was it worth it? I'll pay a premium for a good steak I'm not good at cooking them myself, so I don't mind. This spaghetti though was just no better than Angel and I make at home. It's not like spaghetti is hard to make.
As for all the waiting . . .  did I mention that I had to flag down the manager guy to get the check? I get that, it's a new place. I was a bit annoyed that I didn't catch our servers names primarily because no less than half a dozen different people served us, the bread lady, the tea lady and the two Coke ladies . . . I didn't tip very high, at all, because I didn't know who or what I was tipping. Yes, I completely ignored the 'suggested gratuity' list at the bottom of the check.
We will, of course, go back in a few weeks or months to see if the place runs a bit smoother. I don't know if I can count on the food being much better, I'll certainly have to try something else, probably the cannelloni, certainly not a burger. . .
The place is brand new, so it gets a pass for now. .  .

Pasta House on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2014

St. Louis Bread Company (Panera)

1075 W. Gannon Dr.
Festus, Mo.
On  the Web

Outside the Metro St. Louis area, this 1800 store franchise is known as Panera Bread. The 101 locations here though, still go by the original name, St. Louis Bread Company.
It's quite a popular lunch or shopping break place. No deep fat fried items, mostly fresh made breads, salads, pastas and soups.
I had recently re-read some earlier reviews, looking for places that I needed to re-evaluate. This one surprised me as I feel as though we'd been there more frequently, but no. Not since 2010.
In that review I summarized by saying essentially that I'd ordered the wrong thing.
Well, time to fix that with a little advanced planning. During the week before this visit, I looked up the menu and made a mental list of things I'd be happier with.
The Place:
I like the idea of SLBC. A quality step up from fast food joints. They are also made for lounging.
Aside from the booths and tables, there are lounge chairs, quiet, cozy nooks that beg to be relaxed in. Grad a small bite, a cup of coffee, some WiFi or a book and just sit back, take a break. Like a coffee house. It has a clean, modern, casual look and feel. The seating area is separated from the ordering and counter area. I want to like SLBC.
We stepped in and up to the  ordering area. My mind went blank. It took me several minutes to readjust, refocus. No panini sandwich, no panini sandwich. . .
Commonly panini are squashed in a George Foreman type grill. I've decided that I didn't want all the ingredients heated, I wanted them fresh and cool. That was rule 1. . . I forgot the other rules. There was a soup that looked good. . . nope don't remember, go for a classic.
I placed my order, Angel placed hers, they handed over my cup. Angel settled up and waited for her lemonade. They also gave her a flashing vibrator. You know, the kind restaurants hand out to alert you when your order is ready.
I found us a table by the window, a four top. The boys, Adam and Larry arrived separately. We were going to a farm supply store afterward and for some reason they weren't interested in doing that. They were also handling their own bills. It's a new arrangement, part of an agreement we reached when Larry moved in. It's not a contentious agreement, just one that is part of the ongoing growing up process.
They would sit with us though.
The Food:
I had poured myself some unsweet tea. It looked clear and fresh. It was pretty good. Angel loves the lemonade, the boys had pop.
The vibrator started flashing and jiggling. At the same time someone behind the counter shouted Angel's name. The redundancy seemed completely unnecessary. No one could ignore the flat, square pager. Angel fetched the food. It looked fresh and clean.
I had ordered a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich and Creamy Tomato soup. The sandwich contained turkey, apple wood smoked bacon, greens, tomato and Gouda cheese doused with a small amount of their 'signature' sauce.
According to some folks who reverse engineer foods, the 'signature' sauce is ketchup based with lemon juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce with a pinch of dried mustard. That sounds about right, it had a zing to it. The bread was their tomato basil bread, which you can also buy by the loaf. It was darker than white bread, a little more orange than wheat.
Angel had originally ordered a Greek salad with some clam chowder, but had been informed that  they were out of the chowder, so she subbed with cheesy broccoli soup. Each of our plates came with a softball sized soft roll. That looked pointless to me, I was already having a sandwich. Angel said it was for the soup, but that didn't make sense either, they'd provided a perfectly good spoon.
I like tomato soup, though I don't have it often as it is not very filling. This soup looked thick, bright and fresh. The sandwich was pretty. Folded deli turkey, bright lettuce, a strip of bacon, all on that slightly tanned bread. It hadn't been smooshed down. Beside it a nice looking, but pointless roll. In fact, when I did try to smoosh the sandwich, things slithered out all sides. I stuffed them back together and again, trying to make it small enough to fit into my mouth caused the slippery innards to act like like-pole magnets and fly apart. I determined that the main problem was the meat. Having been folded, it was not flat. The fold was much thicker than the ends, creating a wedge. The slippery tomato and friction-less lettuce had nothing to stick to, the whole thing was like ice on ice. The crust proved to be yet another problem. It was thick and neither soft nor crisp. It was, as best I can describe it, leathery. It would not compress, it could not be bitten through, I could only engage it in a destructive bout of tug of war. I only tried this once since that tugging caused the sandwich to come completely apart. I finally just ripped the crust off of the remaining mess of a sandwich. Both
Angel and Adam tried the crust, assuming I was exaggerating the problem. In the end, they agreed.
Though  the sandwich ingredients themselves were tasty, mechanically the sandwich was a serious fail. The whole point of a sandwich is convenience. A small one like this you should be able to eat it, stem to stern with one hand while you are holding a book in the  other. Not this one. It took both hands just to keep the thing together.
Angel was quite happy with her salad. "It's a Greek salad." she said, some sort of Greek dressing, some Greek olives, a little pepper. . .  Nothing outstanding, but it was fresh and satisfying. It's hard to screw up a salad. I could say the same about sandwiches, but they proved me wrong. As for the soup, Cheesy Broccoli, She liked it, but was really in the mood for chowder. My soup was good, though it looked like something had curdled a little in it. It may have been tomato pulp, it might have been thin curdles of cream, I couldn't tell, but near the end of the bowl, as the temperature dropped to tepid, it was texturally a little off-putting. There wasn't a lot of food to begin with, but having discarded a lot of the bread and stopping about two thirds of the way into the soup, there was ample room for more. Angel suggested dessert, with coffee. We rarely have dessert when we go out,  but it sounded like a great idea this time.
We headed back to the entry and looked over the pastry offerings. I'm not a fancy guy, I latched on to the cinnamon roll. Angel picked a smaller knotted pastry, a pecan twist. There was more than one style of coffee to choose from, some spicy, sweet concoctions, but also some plain, dark roast. I like a strong, dark coffee, so I filled my mug. Angel got something a little more girly.
The roll was simply gorgeous. All the food at SLBC seems to be made to appeal to the eye. We took our pastries and mugs back to our table and dug in. The cinnamon roll tasted exactly right, just the right combination of cinnamon, sugar, yeasty dough and frosting. I should just leave it at that. I really should, but I can't. the cinnamon roll was pretty dry. It tasted great, but it was very, very, day-old dry. Still better than no cinnamon roll though and the coffee was very good.
I know I sound like  a whiner, but I really, really want to like SLBC. I just can't seem to find any food-reason to go there. Everything I've tried there has ended up being a bit of a disappointment. Not gross, disgusting or awful, just not up to my modest expectations. Even as a lunch destination, I have no real desire to pick SLBC over just about anywhere else. It's disappointing that a Bread Company's cinnamon roll is too dry and a sandwich bread is mechanically impossible to eat.  Is that asking too much?
The place wasn't expensive and I appreciate the less than Texas-sized portions. I like the freshness and clean-ness of the place and the food. I like the smell of baking bread, good coffee and stable WiFi. . .
Maybe this was a series of flukes, a too-old cinnamon roll, an overcooked loaf of tomato basil bread, slipperier then usual meat. . . but I really don't think so. If I were to guess, it is a problem of style over substance. Appearance over function. That's my opinion anyhow.
Angel doesn't agree, she likes the place and the food just fine. So this is really a draw. Maybe I'm just missing something.

Panera Bread on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fountain City Grille

302 N. Main
DeSoto, Mo
On the interwebs

Joining us this week was Adam's friend, Anthony, whom I call 'Larry' for no particular reason. He stayed with us for a couple of weeks a few months ago. A nice, quiet young man, a lot like Adam that way. This time the stay will likely be longer. He's packed up his belongings and left Tennessee in his rear view mirror. He'll be looking for gainful employment here and once he and Adam save a little and have steady incomes, they plan to find a place of their own.
They get along well and aren't trouble makers, so it is no real inconvenience. We'll throw some chores at them, they've already moved some furniture around for us.
How this will affect future staffing at Eat and Critique HQ, we're not real sure.
I'd been able to find out some of the foods he does and doesn't like, so I picked a place that I knew he could find something he would eat. We're used to that, Adam is a pretty picky eater as well.
The Place:
It had moved since we last visited. There was some sort of difficulty between FCG and the old Arlington Inn where they used to be. They worked most of the first half of this year setting up new digs on Main Street, just a few blocks away.
I love Main Street. This town has done an admirable job of maintaining it. It still has several blocks of old style brick buildings, most of them occupied. The street itself is nestled between the railroad tracks and a steep hill with winding streets and many, many old houses and churches. Charming, is the best way to describe it. The town's nick name is 'The Fountain City' due to a large amount of the unique water dribblers spread out all around the neighborhoods, none of which I've ever actually seen.
In the Arlington, FCG had a strict black and white motif, one they brought with them to the new location. It took us a while to get there though. As we entered town we noticed that Main Street had been blocked off with orange cones. There were no signs indicating why they were doing this. We had to drive around on back streets and alleys to get to a parking spot within a few blocks. I assumed that a rail car had exploded and was spewing toxic gases and sparking epic explosions. No such luck though, all was quiet on the street.
I asked our server about it. She replied that there was some sort of breast awareness walk or run going on. I wish I'd known that earlier, I'm pretty breast-aware already, but breasts are something I like to support as often as possible, hands-on.*
We walked in and noticed the very attractive, yet comfortable black and white. They'd done a very, very good job of decorating. They even brought the poster-sized black and white photos of many of the city's fountains.
The tables and chairs were also simple, painted black. Only the oak stained wood floor did not carry the binary color scheme.
We were told to sit anywhere, it was early in the dinner service day, only a couple of other tables were occupied. Across the room from us was a bit of artwork depicting a tuxedo'd man playing a grand piano. I liked the jazzy theme.
In the back was a long serving bar with stools. This was not a drinking bar, I'd observed on a preview of the menu that they only served four kinds of beer. So there were no colorful bottles of brandy, whiskey or Scotch on display. I didn't mind, I don't drink and dine. Above the bar were two TV's one loudly blasting a college football game, the other, a nearly muted 'Ghost Hunters' episode.
We settled in and pretty soon a red-headed spark plug named Jessica brought menus and a big, welcoming smile. She asked about drinks and since I'd previewed the menu, I ordered. "I'd like some of your fresh brewed Ice tea, un-sweet, please."  She laughed, Angel blushed. "She knows what I'm talking about." I scolded and pointed out that right there on the front of the menu, under 'Beverages', it clearly stated 'Fresh Brewed Tea.' A challenge, accepted. If you are going to say 'fresh brewed' you better mean it. I know ice tea.
When she came back Angel ordered the requisite appetizer, the regionally ubiquitous Toasted Ravioli. We asked Larry if he'd ever had it before, we were ready to teach him a thing or two about local cuisine. "Yes, I have." He answered, which pretty much shut down that conversation. He joined the family tradition of pulling out his own e-device, latching on to an open WiFi connection. I was doing research, they were just playing games, I think.
The Food:
Jessica took our order, with flair and aplomb. When Angel spat out her choice, Seafood Fettuccine,  I vented. "That's what I was going to order!"
Jessica jumped in. "We can handle more than one order of it, we're quite good." She quipped. To spite her I ordered the grilled pork chop. She seemed impressed.
"Did that impress you, the way I chose the pork chop?" I said.
"It's a good choice."  She answered. I could have let it go at that, but that's just what she wanted me to do.
"Oh, I see, pork chops are a good choice, could you point out the bad choices available?"
She only paused a second. "Everything here is very good." she replied, weaseling out of our debate.
"Good answer." I relented.
For a side I asked for the green beans. No potato, I didn't feel like bulking up. Both Angel and I added a house salad topped with another St. Louis traditional, Mayfair dressing.
This dressing was first created at the very upscale Mayfair Hotel in 1935. It contains, traditionally, anchovies, champagne, a whole egg and oil base with garlic, mustard or horseradish, celery, peppercorn and onion. It is thick, like Ranch or Thousand Island, just not as sweet. More like a 'Cream of Caesar' dressing.
She marched off and tended other tables, it was starting to fill up.
We dug into the ravioli, which was served the same time as a basket of soft, pale rolls. I saved mine for the entree round.
Toasted Ravioli can go either way. At many bars they take a bag of frozen rav's and bread and fry them then serve  them up with some canned pasta sauce, or at least that's the impression you get. A few places go out of their way to make sure they are fresh, cooked right and served with a tasty house-made sauce. I'd say these little demons were the latter. Everyone, including Larry, agreed. As far as toasted ravioli goes, these were pretty good. They were gone pretty quickly. Our salads were served about the same time. Small, simple, but very pretty.
Greens, a couple of small croutons, a couple of purple onion rings topped with a thick, creamy sauce. Underneath the dressingI found some diced tomato and some cheese shreds.
I had to cut up some of the greens and the onions, but it was small, so not a big problem. It was all fresh. We could instantly tell that this dressing was made with anchovies. A good job of it though, not too fishy, just distinct. There was a little too much dressing for the modest amount of salad. The last few bites were mostly dressing, the thick stuff was rather clingy. The taste was excellent, just a bit too much of it.The entrees arrived after just a while. Very, very pretty plates.I won't rate 'plating' as important as taste, but it certainly has a role. I notice it when it is done well.
My pork chop presentation impressed me. A glaze-y dark brown sauce had been drizzled over the chop and extended to an artsy pattern on the plate. The green beans were still firm, just starting to soften up. The chop was about a half inch thick, thicker than those you find at a common grocery store. A problem with pork is that it has to be cooked through. That means it can easily be very dry. The thickness would help, but only if it wasn't overcooked. It's almost impossible to make a thin chop that isn't dry as a retread, but that's what they invented gravy for.
The sauce I knew to be balsamic based, also risky. Too much balsamic can be very vinegary. This was not, it had been sweetened up a bit and some had caramelized onto the pork. The chop was perfectly cooked, not at all dry. It cut easily and tasted marvelous. I don't eat pork chops often in restaurants, but this was about the best I'd had anywhere. I ate the whole thing. All of the beans too, perfect.
Angel's pasta dish was described as containing shrimp, which was obvious, crab and lobster bits, less obvious. It came with two big slabs of toasted, buttery bread, which made my roll seem. . . pale in comparison. I'm not sure I get serving bread with pasta dishes though. Pasta is flour and water, so is bread. That's a lot of starch, a lot of delicious starch on one plate. I dipped my roll into the sauce, it too was sea-foody, probably made with a shrimp stock, very tasty. Though she finished it completely, Angel said it was starting to get a little salty near the end.
Adam had ordered grilled chicken and garlic mashed potatoes. He too , ate it all. He mentioned that it was good, but a little shallow in the depth department, a sauce of some kind would have been nice. As you can see in the photo, it does look a bit Spartan. He added that the chicken was  well seasoned, but maybe with a little more salt than he likes.
Larry was well spoken about his order, a bacon cheeseburger made to his specifications, without anything other than bacon, cheese and burger, no veggies please.

He was quite happy with the burger. It was thin, smashed with a spatula and had dark edges. He said it was well seasoned and he really liked the crispy edges. I noticed he didn't finish his fries though. He seemed reluctant to explain why. "They were a little over-salted." he said, almost embarrassed to say it.
While we were finishing up, I watched as a sharply dressed, middle aged couple casually set up microphones, cords, instrument stands and bongos. . . yes, bongos, the tall ones. I asked Jessica about this. "Sugar Moon" She replied, which I took as a compliment. Then she explained
that they were a jazz duet that went by that name.
It was a quarter until six P.M. as I signed the check, the posted start time for the show. We had to get back to the dogs though, so, somewhat disappointingly, we left before they even started warming up.

The criticisms I have pointed out are barely significant. It's like scolding your A+ kid for the 99% on their test paper instead of 100%. The 'saltiness' and the 'too much dressing' observations were not egregious errors, more of a personal preference thing. Long time fans will recognize that I often complain about saltiness and I've pointed out on many occasions that I may be overly sensitive about the mineral. I just don't use much salt myself. I've known many people who enjoy a higher level of the stuff. My old friend 'Wings' (his real last name was one of those Germanic tongue twisters, common in this area.) used to sit down to a plate of salty french fries and shake another half pound of table salt on them before he even tasted one. Lot's wife contained less salt than the amount he sprinkled on his food each meal. So it very well could just be us.
Jessica was a pleasure to have serve us. Witty, personable, pretty quick with the refills and not at all bothersome. She seemed to be enjoying herself. Everything we had was served exactly as ordered and sure enough, the tea, both the original pour and the refills were fresh brewed, dark and tasty.
On the way out we were greeted by Chef Tremayne. A proud and friendly man dressed in crisp kitchen whites. We complimented him on his food and the restaurant itself, he beamed. This man works hard and cares about the restaurant and the food. I could tell that from the confidence on his face and the tight grip of his handshake. The bill came in at a very reasonable sixty seven bucks, that's for four full meals and an appetizer. I tipped Jessica a bit more than is my usual, she certainly earned it.
I can see going back fairly regularly, the food is simple but very well made, the service is friendly and efficient and maybe next time there won't be a football game on and maybe we can stay for some live music.

* I am aware that lots of people are walking and running to raise awareness of and money for, breast cancer. I too have immediate family members that have had or will have breast and other cancers. I am not making light of the cause, I'm just here to entertain, while I still can.

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