Friday, March 26, 2010

Pearl Street Grill, 310 Pearl St NW - 3/25/10

Looking for a downtown Grand Rapids restaurant we have not yet experienced (yes, we need to backtrack and write up many), we chose Pearl Street Grill, located in the renovated Holiday Inn (the old Days Inn). From the parking lot, we could see the large row of windows and the place looked busy. Walking into the hotel lobby, we saw a sign listing the specials and directing us to the right. Promptly greeted by a hostess, we were lead past a “to-go” express station on the right and a private dining room on the left.

The main dining room is divided into two parts: the window portion that holds about 15 tables and looks out onto Pearl Street, and a booth section on the other side containing five large booths, adjoined by small room containing a few half-booths and tables. A short hall leads to the hotel bar. We choose one of the booths because it was more secluded and quieter. Overall, this restaurant provides a very welcoming environment, clean, friendly, and comfortable. (We were subtly reminded that we were in a hotel when the scent of pool chlorine reached us.) The window portion of the dining room was about half full when we entered shortly after noon, and the entire restaurant was empty when we left around 1:30.

It’s a small menu with several choices under each of these categories: soup, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas. Other than the soup, prices range from $6.00-$9.00. Without any appetizers to choose, we ordered the soup. And the first, a creamy, potato soup with onion, had nice consistency and a good balance of flavors. The vegetable beef soup, which is available daily, was weaker - a little thin and boring.

We chose two of the more interesting sounding sandwiches, the first being a Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich: grilled teriyaki glazed chicken breast topped with bacon, swiss, and pineapple on a toasted sesame seed bun (that reminds you of the old Big Mac commercial, right?). Accompanied by steak fries, the sandwich was an interesting combination of flavors and quite delicious. The tuna dill croissant (dill referring to the pickle and not an added ingredient) was okay but a little bland. Along with the tuna, ingredients were red onions, mayo, house seasoning, and cayenne pepper, and it needed more seasoning and cayenne (the half taken home was spiced up nicely later).

Everything was well-presented, and our server was excellent, both observant and attentive without being ever-present. Nothing could be found online regarding a website ( will bring you to a restaurant in New York). Decor is warm and minimal, and features a very interesting photo series depicting a dinner cruise ship passing a lighthouse This is a very pleasant spot for lunch, and our tab with a generous tip was $30.00.   


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bobarino’s - at the B.O.B., 20 Monroe Ave NW - 3/19/10

It was 60 degrees in Grand Rapids - in March - we had to find outdoor dining for lunch. Our first stop was Rockwell’s where we’d enjoyed lunch several times last summer on the upper level outdoor deck. Today there were barricades placed in front of the stairs and we told to sit anywhere, except upstairs. We couldn’t pass up the day so walked over to the B.O.B. in hopes that Bobarino’s deck was available. On the 2nd floor, we asked if we could sit on the deck, and received an affirmative response. After about 10 minutes alone on the deck, we thought this might be a “Pink Panther” moment:

“Does your dog bite?” “No.” “Nice doggie.” (*chomp*) “I thought you said your dog did not bite.” “That is not my dog.” So....we could sit on the deck but no one would serve us :) But we were patient and a server finally appeared, and he was great from then on.

Being a Friday afternoon on a “summer” day, we ordered a couple of B.O.B’s beers (for those not familiar with "The B.O.B.", they have their own brewery), an Amber and a Blond, along with the most interesting-sounding item on the appetizer menu, Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps. It was a pretty presentation and easier to eat than at Olive’s (because it was already gathered into three servings) but it was not as good. Olive’s served up stir-fried chicken, green onions, shitake, water chestnuts, wontons, asian dipping sauce, and drops of sriracha sauce. At Bobarino’s, we received grilled chicken, asian slaw, cilantro, sesame, peanut, & lemon grass dressing, with peanut sauce & thai sweet chili sauce. It was served with a small dish of sriracha sauce along with a warning from our server about this hot sauce. There are very few people who could use this much sriracha sauce in any dish (compare Olive’s that gave us several strategically placed dots of same sauce) but maybe those people are out there.

We both chose sandwiches, Chicken Pesto Panini and a TBA. The panini was fine: grilled chicken, smoked bacon, provolone, tomatoes, pesto aioli, and red onion on sourdough. The TBA consisted of smoked turkey, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo on multigrain bread; it was ok but nothing extraordinary and had too much mayo. Both sandwiches were served with sweet potato chips and pasta salad. In general, neither of us are big fans of sweet potato chips - they’re just too sweet. The pasta salad was excellent - flavorful and not overly “mayonnaised”.

So here’s the upshot - we chose outdoor atmosphere over food, and it was very pleasant overlooking Grand Rapids, sipping a beer, enjoying the sun. The reason we tried Rockwell’s first is that their food is more interesting than Bobarino’s. Sadly for Rockwell’s, we could see their current “view” is now reduced to looking at a new parking garage instead of a city scape. But once they let us back outside, we’ll still enjoy some Grand Rapids summertime on their deck. Also, we’ll only go back to Bobarino’s when no other interesting (food-wise) outdoor venues are available. (In all fairness, they do have wood-fired thin crust pizzas, a few pastas and signature dishes, and several salads that may be better offerings than the sandwiches and appetizers.) We left with a $36.00 tab.

This is a Gilmore Group Restaurant and you need to search out Bobarino’s menu at the main B.O.B. website at

Bobarino's at the Bob on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lai Thai Kitchen, 1621 Leonard NE - 3/9/2010

With a very modest location in a small strip center, Lai Thai Kitchen surprised us when we entered. There was a small, interesting Buddhist temple in the entryway, complete with offering, but nowhere were the typical Asian knickknacks; you know what I’m talking about. The room was tastefully and minimally decorated, deceptively modern from its facade. (It used to be a Chinese restaurant called Kim-Kim.)

The small room holds four half-booths along the front window, three booths against a side wall, and six or seven tables fill up the middle. Clean and neat, the place was vacant when we arrived for lunch, other than two visible employees (by the time we left, two people had stopped in for their to-go orders and two other booths were occupied). Seeing sriracha and hoisin sauces on the tables, along with the always-present soy sauce, was a good sign.

The menu is large and offers Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese dishes. Both being fans of potstickers, we started there and ordered them pan-fried, and received deep-fried. We’ve discovered that it’s difficult to obtain that mid-level of cooking between steamed and deep-fried, unless you’re making them at home. And we were disappointed, particularly since they were overly deep-fried. The ginger-soy sauce was very savory, however, made more so the soaking sesame seeds. We requested small plates for the potstickers but even after our request, we were left to awkwardly and messily eat over the appetizer dish.

For our main dishes, we chose one “house favorite,” Thai Steak, and the Vietnamese Pho Da Biet Bovien. Thai Steak was a mountain of food, with crispy vegetables and a garlic steak sauce. It was decent but not spicy enough. After requesting some hot sauce and adding some sriracha, things were much better.

There were four variations of the popular Vietnamese beef noodle soup on the menu and our server recommended the above-mentioned selection that promised “rare slices of steak, well-done brisket flank, and balls of beef.” Each Pho order also comes with a separate plate of bean sprouts, basil leaves, cilantro, a jalapeno pepper, and a lime wedge, items to be added to taste to the Pho. The broth was delicious and the noodles were fine. The slices of steak were not rare, however, but well-done; the brisket was tender and tasty. But the beef balls were barely palatable, mainly due to the texture. Perhaps the grade of meat was the problem or the other mystery items that were pressed with the beef. They were more like “fat-balls” and were without flavor or merit.

Service was fine on the whole, except for the plate thing, and the menu is varied enough to warrant a return visit. Most dishes are below $10.00; those with seafood range from $10.25 - $14.95, and we left $32.00 behind including tip. Menu is available online.
Lai Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 12, 2010

25 Kitchen + Bar, 25 Ottawa SW - 3/8/2010

7/5/12 Update:  According to WoodTV, the restaurant is closed as of today.

Located on the corner of Ottawa and Fulton, this restaurant took the place of the defunct Margarita Grill, and opened in November of 2009. The space is huge and is divided into a bar and a dining room. The light and airy bar area has tall tables and chairs surrounding the 3-sided bar. TVs are prominently featured above the bar with sports channels running. We were greeted by a friendly bartender who welcomed us, told us to sit where we would like, and someone would serve us.

A few steps down brought us to the dining room. We took one of the five tables by the windows and were backed by three curved booths and a dividing wall. Beyond the wall are a few more booths and tables, a small bar, and an unobstructed view of a wood-fired stove. TVs are also present here; wherever you sit you will have a view of a TV, most of which are playing soap operas - really. There was mellow music being piped in, a little loud but not enough to interfere with conversation. The entire place has a modern, clean look, while still featuring exposed brick, wooden floors, and huge, ancient wooden ceiling and support beams. One wall contains nothing but a small collection of mirrors; other artwork is minimal and contemporary. Small plates and cloth napkins are on the tables, and the whole effect is stylish and inviting.

Interestingly, we sat about 10 minutes before a server appeared, and the place was not busy. No one was in the bar and there were only two other booths occupied in the dining room (at 1:00 pm). After the initial delay, he was much more attentive as our meal progressed but was still a poor server. He was a soft-talker and so completely diffident, it was hard to get any information, much less even hear him.

But to the menu - very interesting with many unusual and unique offerings. We started with one of the “sharables”: duck spring rolls (hand-made rolls, roasted duckling, hoisin/ginger sauce delicately drizzled, and pineapple soy sauce for dipping). It was a lovely presentation, and delicious. The rolls were a little too crispy on the ends but provided nice texture. The duck could actually have been chicken for all we knew, as the other flavors somewhat overwhelmed it.

For our main entrees, we were very tempted by “The Fancy Stuff”, eight distinctive entrees (particularly the Lobster Macaroni, $22.00) but the prices drove us to the more suitable sandwich/lunch selections. Grilled steak on wonderful asiago ciabatta, served with roasted red peppers, red onion confit, and ancho mayo was misleadingly called steak sliders (sorry, I always think White Castle). This sandwich was a savory combination of flavors and a great sandwich; accompanying pita chips and salsa were also great quality.

The el cubano was a unique Cuban in that no ham was involved. Instead, thinly-sliced porkloin was served on ciabatta, with mustard, bacon (ok, there’s the “ham”), swiss cheese, and mojo sauce. Another excellent choice. The chosen accompaniment was curly fries for a small upcharge.

Playing on its address, 25 Kitchen + Bar took its name, and offers 25 world pizzas (again, so unique, e.g., Tuscan pizza: red grapes, Fontana, Gorgonzola, black pepper), 25 signature drinks, and 25 draft beers. The menu does not include any of the beer, wine, or drink selections so price range and selection was unknown but they are available online. Along with the 25 pizzas, there are ten sandwiches ($7-11), five salads ($10-12), sixteen sharables ($6-12), and eight entrees ($15-25). We left with a $40.00 tab, including tip.

25 Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon