Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mill Creek Tavern, 3874 West River Dr NE, Comstock Park - 5/26/10

This very comfortable, casual restaurant is divided in two by a narrow hall; it used to separate the smoking bar area from the non-smoking room. We had lunch in the long, narrow bar that features a very lovely, old wooden bar, wooden booths, and about fifteen tables of various sizes. Big groups can be accommodated with a very large half booth and several large tables, and a more intimate setting can be found in one of the high-backed booths. The dark wainscoting shows some wear as does the wood floor, but both add to the charm. Five TVs are strategically placed throughout the room, and interesting, old photographs (sports, Grand Rapids, and more) adorn the walls. Restaurant interior photos can be found on their website and are much better than any we took today.

It was fairly crowded when we entered and it looked like mostly neighborhood patrons with a few business groups. Three servers were handling everything, including the bar. They worked cooperatively as we were helped at various times by two of them, both friendly and polite. The young lady who ended up being our main server was the doppelganger of Kristin Chenoweth, although we don’t know if she can sing (we’ll just leave it at that).

Our appetizer selection was Southwest egg rolls: black beans, chicken, and corn, wrapped in phyllo dough, and deep fried. The menu stated they were served with salsa but they came with chipotle ranch sauce. When we inquired, our server was surprised that salsa was listed because they “never serve that with the egg rolls”. She brought the salsa anyway - very thick and spicy - but the chipotle really did work better. Salsa overwhelmed the great flavors of the egg rolls. Phyllo dough by its very nature is light and these egg rolls were an excellent choice.

Next up was the Mill Creek burger, ordered medium rare, and with fries. Unfortunately, it came medium well. Every accompaniment was good - bacon done just right with melted Colby cheese blending with the haystack onions. Fries were thick, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and lightly salted - fine fries. Too bad about the burger.

Our other item was the Mill Stack: roast beef sauteed with mushrooms and bean sprouts, topped with melted mozzarella and served on a ciabatta square. It was a good meal; the beef was tender and the bean sprouts added an interesting, crunchy texture. Ciabatta was fresh. Homemade potato chips were included and they were over fried, many of them actually had a “burned” taste.

Service was prompt and attentive but not rushed. Dinner and lunch menus vary slightly, and both are online. None of the items will surprise you except for maybe the mussels. Most items are under $8.00 with dinner going a bit higher. The menus we were brought at lunch time listed the website as - not quite. You will find them at the site listed below. The group that owns Mill Creek also owns a few other bars/pubs, J. Gardella’s, Bull’s Head, Walker Roadhouse, and more. We’re fans of all three, by the way. Next time you’re near Fifth Third Ball Park, try this neighborhood restaurant/bar and enjoy a warm, friendly, pub atmosphere.

Mill Creek Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graydon's Crossing, 1223 Plainfield NE - 5/19/10

For lunch locations, particularly in the summer, this is one of our default restaurants.   We like the outdoor dining, the food, and the fact that we can get a seat. A fire took Graydon’s out of the running for a while but we were happy to see that it recently reopened.

It was a very warm day and although we wanted to sit on the second story deck, as in previous attempts we were told it wasn’t open. So we settled for the large ground level patio, which holds tables for two, four, and six. They’ve added a counter/bar facing Plainfield and a small couch/seating area. Indoor dining also provides a great atmosphere: dark, high-backed wooden booths and a beautiful dark wooden bar.

As they advertise, it’s a “cozy British Pub atmosphere” and a restaurant that’s “influenced by the days of the British colonies in India.” So the menu is eclectic: English Countryside meets Indian Colonial and mixes with American....miscellaneous. For example, appetizers range from Irish and Scotch offerings to Indian dishes and a California crab cake. And to our amusement, the much maligned, dry, flavorless, U.P. pasties are on the menu; these are probably good! Every item, except the sandwiches, is paired with selections from their extensive beer and wine inventories.

After starting with a couple of Founders’ brews, we ordered Ganjam Fritters (fresh plantains, potato, and Indian spices). They came with spicy peanut-sesame sauce, mustard seed yogurt sauce, and cucumber yogurt chutney, the last of which was cool respite for the other two. It was a good choice with fiery tastes.

Our first entree was the Nantucket, a crab cake sandwich with wasabi aioli, Indian pico de gallo, and spring mix, on a Kaiser roll. It was a creative combination and a wonderfully prepared sandwich, with the sauce blending nicely with the crab. The bun was toasted but not dried out - perfect. Sides are extra and the English Frittes (shoestring fries with garlic aioli) were ok. The special of the day was the Maharaja, three slider-size lamb meatball sandwiches. Another excellent choice.

Service was interesting at best. Our first waiter was standoffish and awkward. He disappeared before we ordered our appetizer and another very engaging, informative server appeared, offering helpful recommendations. He delivered the appetizers, by which time we still did not have plates or silverware. The situation was quickly remedied, he disappeared, and our original server finished out our time.

Appetizers and sandwiches are mostly under $10.00 and entrees just over; their menu can be viewed online. We stand by this restaurant and are waiting for the day we can dine on the second story deck!

(The owners of Graydon’s also own Cambridge House, Derby Station, J.D. Reardon’s, and Logan’s Alley.)
Graydon's Crossing on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mi Tierra, 2300 Division Ave S - 5/11/10

Driving south down Division the week before, we spotted a couple of Mexican restaurants that we wanted to come back and try, and this was the first. We knew nothing about it and pulled into the rear parking lot. There was just one other vehicle in the lot, which is not something we like to see, on several levels. We walked in the back door and found a good-sized room with an empty lunch buffet on our right. On the left, upholstered booths lined the windows, tables filled the space in between, and on the far end of the room, very large booths take the middle space. The kitchen and counter were on the right, halfway into the room, with pictures of the food above the counter/kitchen opening.

We took a booth by the window far back into the restaurant and found ourselves seated near a Virgin Mary statue highlighted with colored lights, two booths on the right loaded with dirty dishes (must have been a busy lunch), a compact disc juke box, and very colorful artwork. Against the back wall was a large flat screen TV showing, with sound, soccer on ESPN de Portes. It’s not our idea of atmosphere but the decor may be culturally true, and unlike “Little Mexico” that tries to provide a Mexican food experience for Americans (Tex-Mex meets Aztec art), this is a restaurant serving Mexican food for Mexican people.

It was around 1:30 p.m. and the only other occupants were a couple with a small child. Sometime during our meal, they departed and two customers in hoodies arrived for take-out. From the looks we received, we knew we were an oddity here. Our server frequently lapsed into Spanish but was friendly and patient; chips and salsa were delivered promptly. The salsa was thinner than what we’re used to but the flavor was excellent with a nice spicy kick, and far above the average fare; no refills were brought (and we didn’t ask). Soda is served from cans - nothing on tap. Valentina Salsa Pi Cante is on the tables.

The lunch buffet was obviously over, and that was fine with us. The menu had four large pages (and a 5th page in mine that listed Chinese luncheon specials - really??) We bypassed the Chinese items and found a mole dish (enchilada mi tierra de mole), which consisted of four enchiladas with chicken, beef, or cheese, topped with cheese and sour cream, accompanied by rice, beans, and salad. Mole sauce creation is an art in itself and we couldn’t resist. We attempted to order it with beef but were twice told that it should be served with chicken.  Who were we to disagree? Our second selection was fajitas a la Mexicana (marinated grilled steak with tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, rice, beans, and salad, on flour tortillas). Both dishes were wonderful, made up of fresh ingredients and great Mexican flavors - and definitely homemade tortillas.  The small salad that accompanied our entrees was so much more than the token flavorless tomato slice on a piece of wilted lettuce that we’ve all experienced. This was fresh and crispy - chopped lettuce, tomato, avocado, and cilantro - a taste treat.

After we were served, our waitress disappeared. We helped ourselves to the takeout dishes that were stacked on the kitchen counter, and the cordial cook sent her back out with our bill. Well, not exactly. She went to the cash register, totaled up our meals, came back to our table, and told us what we owed. Entrees are under $10.00 for the most part, and the lunch buffet runs Monday - Friday for $5.99.

The restaurant has a drive-through window and that might be a good way to go for those that may be uncomfortable in this setting but want to enjoy an authentic Mexican meal.     
MI Tierra Restaurant on Urbanspoon                           

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thai Express, 4317 Kalamazoo SE - 5/6/10

It was recommended by a friend as being the best Thai food in Grand Rapids so we had to try it. After circling once through Towne & Country Plaza, we located the nondescript, little restaurant, and it’s a sliver of a space. The entrance is off the parking lot and the space extends up to windows facing Kalamazoo. Upon entry, you are welcomed by a table for seven and the restrooms. The room then divides into a hall of small tables for two on the left, with the kitchen running along on the right. The hall continues down to the aforesaid windows, and the kitchen ends in time to add three tables along these windows. In total, there were about 11 tables, the table for seven, three tables for four, and the rest for two. From the small table in the middle with two chairs, loaded with magazines, we’re assuming they do a bit of take-out service.

It was crowded when we walked in and we walked through and took the middle table by the windows. From this viewpoint, we could look back straight down into the kitchen. Decor is eclectic, ranging from warriors and deities to pictures of food and the popular Asian good-luck, beckoning cat (left paw up brings in customers). And with its somewhat mismatched curtains, this restaurant is not about ambiance but is all about the food. We could see an older woman doing most of the cooking and two younger women assisting in the kitchen or serving. Later on, a young man also surfaced in the kitchen. By the time we left, the restaurant was empty and they were all relaxing together at a table in the corner of the kitchen.

Our server was very friendly and helpful, prompt but never rushed us. We started off with the appetizer sampler that offered four appetizers, two of each, and it was a great way to try as much food as we could. The sampler had crab cheese (as good as Angel’s Thai CafĂ©, and those were good), goong tod (breaded shrimp, heavy breading), kai satay (chicken satay, just ok; peanut sauce couldn’t be detected and the curry was a little bitter), and kai tod (chicken wings, marinated in non-specified Thai herbs, with a slightly sweet sauce that was a tastebud treat). Although it wasn’t part of the sampler, spring rolls with sweet and sour chili sauce were also served, and they were delightful.  Lightly deep fried, the ingredients were a harmonious balance of flavors and much better than others we’ve had, as was the accompanying sauce.

Choosing our main selections was more difficult as the menu is large (not a book like Angel’s, but big enough). The menu is divided as follows: Appetizers 1-9, Soup/Salad 1-6, Thai Curry 1-4, Thai Seafood 1-4, Thai Noodles 1-6, Thai Specialties 1-13, and on the website, Lunch Specials, items pulled from the written menu. As luck would have it, our choices ended up being “lunch specials”, which explained why we also received the spring rolls. Dishes are offered with choice of chicken, pork, tofu, or a combination, and for another dollar, you may select beef or shrimp. When we finally made our selections, our server asked us to choose our included dessert: cheesecake or ice cream sandwich.

Our first dish was pad prik, (red curry) with chicken, onion, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, and sweet basil. Second order (recommended by our server) was pad med ma muang, also with chicken (cashews, house sauce, onion, bell peppers, mushrooms). Both were incredibly good. Vegetables were obviously fresh and we saw the dishes being cooked - no overcooked, fast food here. But a word about the spice levels; our server explained that the levels ranged from one to ten. For women, she recommended level three and for men, level four. What? We both went bold and asked for level five - and it was just right. Both of us took some food home and were questioned as we asked for boxes - is it too hot? *sigh* The take-home boxes were the usual boxes found in most Asian restaurants but these had advertising on them from MetroPCS - most likely a mutually beneficial arrangement.

We wrote down a lot of information assuming that this little business would not have a website, but they do. The full menu is available, most items are under $10.00, and they also advertise catering services. Not ordered but brought to us was a thai sweet iced tea and a thai sweet iced coffee - we each claimed one - tasty, interesting, and yes, sweet. Our chosen cheesecake dessert came in the form of a plate offering small squares of chocolate chip, raspberry, and plain cheesecake. It was a brilliant, cool finish to a hot, spicy meal. Along with our bill came not only the non-fortune fortune cookies (“You are broad-mined (sic) and socially active” ), but also a sweet little sugar bowl with mints and a serving spoon - very nice touch.

So to summarize: this is probably the best Thai food you will find in Grand Rapids, at least to date. It’s not the full package of atmosphere + quality + service, but as Meatloaf once sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.” 


 Thai Express on Urbanspoon          


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Green Well, 924 Cherry St SE - 5/4/10

The Green Well is a favorite of ours and, like The Winchester, labels itself a Gastro Pub (more pub than restaurant but with really good food). To us, The Green Well is more restaurant than pub but perhaps later at night, it becomes more pub. Regardless, it’s a great place to eat. (Also, in its pub defense, the bar has very large wine and beer selections and, in keeping with their philosophy, includes some local micro brews.)

The restaurant is not large and is slightly divided between bar and dining. Tables are close together (ok, maybe it is more pub-style) and it was crowded at 1:00 p.m. The outdoor deck has tables more spaciously placed and seeing that it was a sunny day, we headed outside. They may put more tables out later on but today there were only six, and three to four stayed occupied. If you know anything about this well-documented restaurant, you know it’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, and as its website states: “it’s environmentally safe, ultra efficient, and leaves behind the smallest possible carbon footprint.” Tables from recycled materials, food from local suppliers, many local brews and wines, and more, prove the Green Well lives up to its claims.  

And the food?  Wonderful. Creative, fresh, and beautifully presented; what more can you ask for? If you want the best burger in town, order the Kobe burger (but if you’re going to order it anything more than medium-rare, just take a run to McDonald’s instead). The cheese plate is lovely with a great combination of tastes, and is highly recommended. Today we started with the smoked chicken and goat cheese crepe. It consisted of mushrooms, spinach, roasted vegetable hash, and bacon buerre blanc. Interesting and delicious.

Several specials are always available but this time we stayed with the menu. It changes frequently and every description is enticing. Our first choice was the barbequed braised pork (sweet corn, andouille, braised greens, and creamy polenta). It was a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds (the polenta with corn was particularly notable). The second dish was jambalaya. We haven’t had jambalaya since our last visit to Louisiana and this was a great midwest version of the famous dish (braised pork, andouille, shrimp, roasted peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes, onions, and basmati rice); great combination, and if the shrimp were frozen, they still retained flavor.

Service is always great; servers are friendly, helpful, and informative. Menus differ slightly for lunch and dinner and both are found online, as are complete wine and beer listings, and all pricing. The Green Well consistently offers unique dishes with fresh ingredients, and although some customers may complain about the prices, you won’t be disappointed with the quality.

The Green Well on Urbanspoon