Monday, June 14, 2010
The restaurant is located in a strip mall across from Woodland Mall. We’ve tried it once before and many people rave about it. From what we could find out, it’s not a national chain but it felt like one with its nondescript decor. The room is large; tables and booths wrap around and there are a couple of semi-private dining areas enclosed in the front and the rear of the restaurant. It was crowded but there was no waiting. We were brought to our table and hot on our heels was a server with chips and salsa; salsa was thin and without much flavor.
Another server appeared immediately to take our beverage order, and returned quickly to take our food order. We had barely scanned the menu and told him we needed a few more minutes. This was the first time we made this mistake. Twenty minutes later he came back to take our appetizer order. When that was delivered, he wanted to take our lunch order but we weren’t ready. Yes, our second mistake.
Appetizer selections consisted mainly of nachos and dips, so we chose choriquesadillas, which ended up being our favorite part of the meal. Two soft tortillas stuffed with chorizo and cheese, served with lettuce (way too much), sour cream, and guacamole were not very spicy but were still nicely done.
Besides appetizers, the menu offered kids’ plates, quesadillas, specials, favorites, fajitas, seafood, twenty-five combination plates, vegetarian dishes, eight different burritos, and ten lunch specials. In addition, on most tables stood a paper menu with daily specials: each day of the week has a featured dish and drink.
The menu is too big, and having specials and favorites as separate categories is just confusing. We went with “favorite” items and the first was the “special dinner.” It seemed like a good choice since it offered five different items to taste, accompanied by rice and beans. First up, a chalupa - a lame tostada without meat. Second, a burrito, ordered with beef and beans that arrived without beans. Third, enchilada. Fourth, beef taco, and last, a tamale, the worst of the bunch. The cornmeal wrapping was bland and mushy, poor flavor and texture. Everything else was improved with some hot sauce (chile habanero).
Our second dish was fried chimichangas: two flour tortillas with chicken (recommended by our server), served with beans, lots of lettuce, one tasteless tomato, sour cream, and guacamole. Again, a huge serving but needing hot sauce.
So to summarize: tortillas are good, beans are heavily salted, food is otherwise bland, quantities are vast, prices are low, and service is intended to rush you in and out. If this is what you like, and you like Little Mexico, you’ll love El Arriero.
This is part of the Gilmore Collection and one of our favorite locations; great architecture with low horizontal lines and open interiors, and it’s on a lake (ok, it’s man-made but it’s still water). The two-story restaurant has an upper level bar and dining room - both with surrounding windows - and an outdoor patio. The lower level is open air with tables under an overhang, a bar screened from direct sun by a protective ceiling, and some waterside seating under the sun.
Service has been great every time we’ve been here and today was no exception; the entire staff is friendly and helpful. The menu is creative and buttressed by what is locally produced. Last year they planted a small garden on their property but were foiled by tomato blight. This year they’ve expanded the garden all along their lake front and moved the tomato plants to a new site. Peppers, lettuce, basil, and much more will be served up fresh this summer.
Last time we were here we settled for the lower level patio but today we waited for about ten minutes to get a table on the upper level patio. The one open lakeside table was umbrella-less so we took one three back that gave us a little protection on this hot day. The patio is narrow with tables almost single file heading back away from the lake. Along side these tables are about three more, in a second row. And that was a problem.
The rows are too close together, particularly when a large group of just-out-of-school teachers took up two tables and thought they were free to push back from the table, resulting in their chairs interfering with the narrow walk area. Wait staff continually and dexterously maneuvered around them and the result was a constant “bump” into one of our chairs. Thankfully the school’s-out-for-summer-teachers had finished eating and soon left, packing their liquor with them.
First up: chicken drummets, flash-fried and served with shaved scallions, sweet chili sauce, and wonton chips. This was an excellent concoction and the wontons were probably the best we’ve ever had - lightly deep-fried with just the right balance between chewy and crispy - and the chili sauce made the dish.
The menu does not exactly coincide with the online menu, and there was also a small paper menu on each table with seasonal features: three dishes, two wines, two cocktails, and one beer. We tend to favor features but none of these caught our interest (bruschetta, spinach salad, and morel mushroom pizza). Since morels are not currently in season, we were curious about the pizza. Upon questioning, a server who had stopped by with water thought they were probably from Iowa. Close enough.
We went full bore for our main dishes, Surf and Turf, and New York strip. The surf was a wonderful risotto with bay scallops and mushrooms, and the turf was hanger steak (very interesting offering as there is only one per animal). The risotto was a masterpiece but the steak with red wine reduction did not fare as well. The red wine sauce totally overpowered the otherwise perfectly prepared meat.
The grass fed New York strip was accompanied by grilled shitake mushrooms, potatoes, onions, and peppers, and with the bleu cheese butter was an excellent dish. Both steaks were served medium rare and were well presented.
Our tab was under $50.00 with tip, a lovely breeze rustled the umbrellas, a pontoon boat from one of the lake condos floated by, we sipped our Bloody Marys - yes, this was good.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Several years ago, we came across this place en route to another restaurant, and we’ve returned several times. Like some of the other restaurants under the same ownership (e.g., J. Gardellas), this has a great pub atmosphere and offers cordial, intimate settings.
The restaurant is divided into three sections. The bar and the dining area form a large “L,” with the dining room the smaller part. Both are filled with dark wood - columns, floors, booths, tables, and the bar itself, along with other interesting detail and decor. Off the bar, several openings connect to what we called the “porch” that held around ten tables of varying sizes. But the wood is gone; the floor is tiled, we sat on wicker chairs (too low for me), and windows are everywhere; the inside wall is old exterior brick, painted yellow. So it’s a nice, bright, sunny place to dine but totally lacks the ambiance of the rest of the roadhouse. And it’s loud, as it is really just one big room with nothing to divide one party from another. It’s all in what you’re looking for - and next time we’ll request to be seated in one of the other two areas. (Think about the “porch” at the Cottage Bar - seating of last resort.)
There were fourteen appetizers ($6.00 - $9.00) and they didn’t hold many surprises. One of the more interesting-sounding was Bang Thai Shrimp: shrimp lightly breaded and flash fried, Thai chili sauce, shredded lettuce, and chow main noodles. It was a superb dish; the chili sauce was very zestful and the addition of the noodles made a great textural combination. When we found ourselves with a few left over, we realized they served about a dozen of them - not the usual appetizer offering (earlier this week we received six at San Chez). However, we had to ask for small plates on which to eat them.
The rest of the menu consisted of soups, six salads, four wraps, six burgers, twelve sandwiches, and eight house specialties. Other than the specialties and the dinner menu, prices generally were below $10.00. Menus are online and the lunch menu varied slightly from the menu we saw today.
We both selected from the house specials, the first being Maple Bourbon ribs. This was a half rack, slow cooked, served with Maple Bourbon barbecue sauce (hence the name :). They were good and the meat pulled easily off the bone without resorting to eating with one’s hands. But they were a bit charred on the bottom. They were served with french fries and cole slaw, both fine but nothing extraordinary.
We’ve had recent discussions regarding the difficulty of finding well-prepared eggs. Is it because we are used to how we prepare them at home and it’s never the same? Can an omelette be made with the eggs actually tasting good and not overdone, or they are just there to contain the added ingredients? Is it such a small space between underdone and overdone that only a top chef can achieve perfection? Weighty egg questions...
So our second dish had to be the Chorizo Omelette: three eggs, chorizo sausage, black beans, corn, peppers, onions, and Colby Jack cheese. It was served with salsa, sour cream, and fried red skin potatoes. The ingredients were a savory treat, particularly with the added salsa. The eggs? Slightly overdone and no flavor. Egg issue to be continued...
Service was perfect - friendly and attentive - and our bill came in under $40.00. It’s worth the short ride to enjoy this charming pub.