Friday, April 30, 2010

Wei Wei Palace, 4242 Division Ave S - 4/29/10

This is one of the two restaurants in Grand Rapids, to our knowledge, that offers dim sum (the other is Peking Wok’s Restaurant in Cascade), but today we wanted to eat off the “regular” menu. The restaurant is located in Hong Kong Plaza, which hosts a comprehensive Asian grocery store, an Asian sub shop, jewelry store, cell phone store, and a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Soc Trang. When previously dining at Pho Soc Trang, we noticed Wei Wei Palace, which is hard to miss with ducks and part of a pig hanging in the window. Shortly thereafter, we tried the Palace for Sunday dim sum and it was a great experience.

Today when we walked in, we were offered the dim sum menu or the regular menu and we chose the regular. We joined one other couple, a couple of “godfathers” conferring very quietly and confidentially, in this very large room that probably holds more than 100 people. On dim sum Sunday, the room was packed - today, not so much. There’s a long table in the rear of the room that just begs for a large group and it would be a fun place to dine with a big party, particularly for dim sum.

The menu is huge - 197 items, including the last one for “pop” - and the choices are extensive. This is not your average Chinese food menu. Live fish, lobster, and crab are visible in the restaurant tanks, and as mentioned previously, duck and pig are hanging in the window. So unless there’s a huge subterfuge going on, there’s no frozen seafood or meat being served here. It claims to be authentic Cantonese food and we can neither affirm nor deny that, but can say that you will not be eating in the usual “Chinese” restaurant. Jellyfish, anyone?

We started with hot and sour soup, and then roast duck (Hong Kong style). This soup puts all other hot and sour soups to shame - it’s robust with flavor and ingredients - so much more than the usual broth with a little tofu and smattering of miscellaneous vegetables.  We will definitely be back for this because it’s the best we’ve found to date.

The roast duck did not fare as well in our humble opinions but we tried it because it’s not our usual fare. For one of us, it tasted like the restaurant smelled when we walked in. It needed to be pulled off the bone to eat, but you did know you were eating duck, rather than some mystery meat. Our main complaint, however, is that we were not given clean plates after the duck dish and the duck flavor continued to seep through our next dishes. (We later ran the leftover duck past our resident Asian traveler, and although he thought it was a fairly typical Asian duck dish, he had a subsequent stomach upset...maybe it’s just our western sensibilities.)

For our main dishes, we chose shredded pork in garlic sauce and szechuan beef. Both dishes were loaded with crisp vegetables. The pork dish had a somewhat sweet sauce (too sweet for us) and we couldn’t taste any garlic. Szechuan beef fared better but as we ate our food we could see oil separating from the sauce on the beef dish.

Service was fine, but seeing as how there were only four of us in the restaurant, that’s  not much of a statement. The cook and server spent a bit of time at the counter staring at us. Otherwise, our server was at a corner table on her laptop. Later, another employee made an appearance with a cleaning cart but didn’t clean anything. After our main dishes were delivered, the cook came out and stood looking very pensively at the fish tanks. English was a little difficult and we didn’t press for any additional information about the food from our server. Dishes all run around $10.00 and our tab came to $45.00, including tip.

Try this restaurant if you want something out of the ordinary, and don’t miss the hot and sour soup. If you haven’t experienced dim sum, check it out on a Sunday. During the week, they will cook your dim sum selections to order but on Sunday the carts are continually roaming throughout the restaurant offering intriguing and delicious - ok, sometimes just intriguing - little food creations. It’s a grand adventure.

Wei Wei Palace on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bistro Bella Vita, 44 Grandville Ave SW - 4/13/10

This is a large restaurant/bar that sits alongside the Van Andel Arena. We’ve lunched here several times, in the dining room, on the outdoor patio, and in the bar. Park at the meters on Grandville, and walk to the entrance on Weston. Enter and you are in the middle of the restaurant. The dining area is on your left, which is a combination of tables, and half, curvy booths. The bar is on your right and contains tables and full booths curving around a long, J-shaped bar. We chose a booth in the bar simply because there were fewer people there and we could have a window view. The entire place has a very open, airy feel about it. Very few walls, and windows on three sides give it a spacious feel, but other than the bar booths, it  doesn’t provide an intimate or warm atmosphere.

Out of the seven offered appetizers, we’ve previously had three of them (all good) so selected the antipasta. It was exquisite not only in its taste combinations but also in its presentation. The marinated vegetables combined deliciously with the meats and cheeses. Here the sum of the parts was truly better than the individuals. We could have used more crostinis to help finish the food but to be fair, we didn’t ask for them either. We still had full dishes to come.

Our main dishes were specials of the day and will not be found on the menu. The first was a meatball sandwich with fries, and coming off Rockwell’s a few weeks previously, made for an easy taste-test comparison. (Sorry, Rockwell’s - this one has your’s beat.) The meatballs were flavorful, and were served with grilled mushrooms, onions, and fresh basil leaves on French bread. Fries had partial skins and were nicely seasoned. Much more creative than Rockwell’s, this sandwich was, however, even messier to eat. The other special ordered was rigatoni with scallops, sausage, broccolini, grilled tomatoes, and chick peas, in a light lemon creme sauce. Again, a very creative and enjoyable dish.  

We had the same server as last time and she was great. Moving between the bar and the dining area, she was very efficient as well as personable. One other note on this fine restaurant, expect a higher tab (we parted with $54.00 including a generous tip). But the food is innovative and of high quality. We learned from the menu that both this establishment and The Green Well are owned by the same organization, and for fans of both of these places, you will see the pattern: fresh ingredients, local produce, creative dishes, and lovely presentations - Chef Ramsay would approve.

P.S. For you martini lovers, the Bistro claims to have the largest martini bar in Michigan.
Bistro Bella Vita on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 9, 2010

Taquitos Mexican Grill, 327 Division Ave S - 4/8/10

Originally opening in February 2009, this restaurant was closed when we attempted to eat there earlier this year. It just reopened and we had the pleasure of dining there today. In an earlier life, the space was Casey’s greasy spoon, and having never been there, we’re not sure about the extent of the renovations. Although the restaurant does not currently offer a warm atmosphere, it definitely has a certain charm about it. Wood floors, wood trim on walls and ceiling, and dark wooden booths were obviously refurbished, along with an antique bar that includes a beautiful mirrored bar back (from the Herkimer Hotel?). Walls are painted either red or yellow and it all somehow works. Decor is refreshingly minimal and other than a couple of sombreros and red chili pepper lights, you won’t see any of the “traditional” Mexican decor you’ve come to expect.
Upon entering, we were met by eight booths along the left wall (cushioned seats), two tables on the right, and the aforementioned bar farther down, on the right. Between the two tables and the bar was an opening leading into an adjoining wood-paneled dining room, which was occupied by a large group from the Catholic Diocese across the street. Due to this group, our initial service was poor as all hands were waiting on them. Eventually a young man, who was noticeably not a server, brought us water.

The booths are a little tight - no large person would be comfortable - and the space would be better utilized if one booth was removed and the remaining seven were spaced out a bit. Two other booths were occupied, and at various times a customer was at the bar. The bar, by the way, does not serve liquor (no license), but customers are invited to sit at one of the four unique, attractive chairs at the bar to order an express lunch-to-go.

Then suddenly we had a server to take our appetizer order, and the other server was right behind to bring us complimentary chips and salsa. Things were picking up and when we started in on the taquitos appetizer, all was well again. Three homemade flour tortillas (cut in half), filled with beef and chorizo, perfectly deep-fried and served with delicious queso dip, were great. Full of flavor, the taquitos were nicely enhanced by the dip.

Bypassing the Mexican American entrees, we chose carne asada tacos and gorditas de frijoles. The tacos were fine and although we couldn’t be sure the tortillas were homemade (probably not made that day), they were, and they were better than you’d receive in most Mexican restaurants. The gorditas were great, lightly deep-fried and stuffed with beans. Both dishes required hot sauce (but that’s our particular preference) and it was freely offered. The menu isn’t huge but they are attempting to produce a few high quality dishes, and you’ll be eating more authentic Mexican food here than in the famously, recently reopened Mexican/American restaurant (you know of whom I speak).

Other than the initial service speed-bump, our server was excellent. There’s nothing on the menu more than $8.00, our tab with tip was $25.00, and we took 1/3 of our food home. Interestingly, this is only the second restaurant we’ve encountered that offered a take-home dish for the dip - nice. The menu is online, and the restaurant offers catering and downtown delivery. With free parking on the street and behind the restaurant, there’s nothing to prevent you from trying Taquitos Mexican Grill.    

This restaurant has closed but catering is still available for parties of 20 or more. Contact It's been replaced by "All American Junkies" restaurant.  

Taquitos Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon                        


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rockwell’s Kitchen & Tap, 45 S Division Ave SW - 4/1/10

Eighty degrees in Grand Rapids called for outdoor dining, and this week, Rockwell’s outdoor deck was open. The view is diminished due to the new parking garage that dwarfs the deck, but it’s still a great place to dine. There are about twelve tables of varying sizes and only four were occupied when we arrived around 12:30.    

From the twelve interesting starters, we narrowed our choice down to lamb quesadillas, tuna poke, or lettuce cups. Our server recommended the quesadillas, and he didn’t steer us wrong. They had a really great spicy kick and combined well with the salsa and lime flavoring (chipotle monterey jack cheese, black bean salsa, lime sour cream). Quesadillas extraordinaire.       

Sandwiches are a little more mundane but most offered at least one out of the ordinary ingredient. We selected a french dip (shaved beef, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, smoked gouda cheese, ciabatta bread, au jus) and it was fine but a little bland. More seasoning would have been helpful. Everything was fresh and nicely presented, as was the meatball sandwich (house made garlic-parmesan meatballs, provolone, basil marinara, ciabatta bread). This was a better sandwich than the french dip and the accompanying fries were nicely, lightly seasoned. The problem with the meatball sandwich was that it was sloppy and difficult to eat, which takes away from the enjoyment.

Both were big sandwiches and we each took half home, along with half of the quesadillas. Ciabatta bread has great texture and consistency but it is big bread, and really more than we need. But I digress. Along with providing a nice outdoor venue, Rockwell’s also consistently gives great service. Friendly, informative, and efficient - you can’t ask for more than that.

The restaurant has a great atmospheric interior but we tend to save this place for outdoor dining. The deck is shared with the adjoining restaurant, Republic, and they also share the kitchen. Republic’s doesn’t open until four, however, so enter through Rockwell’s for the deck at lunchtime. Menus for both establishments are online. We spent $40.00 today and enjoyed a nice meal under the sun.  

Rockwell's Kitchen & Tap on Urbanspoon