Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lawry's The Prime Rib ~ Dallas, Texas

Barring any surprise discovery, this should be the final restaurant post for 2013. I plan on doing a summary of the year tomorrow or Tuesday if possible.

For those who've been following the RJG, you'll know that Lawry's is not our typical fare (witness yesterday's My Lan entry). But my parents had some history with this restaurant, and because of that, here we are dining elegantly. So what is that history? For a brief time, from 1966 to 1967, when the RJG was just a toddler, we lived in the Los Angeles area, before relocating to Dallas. My father, who was in sales, had been transferred from New York City to LA. For their 5th wedding anniversary in 1966, they had a splurge meal at the Five Crowns, which I believe had only been open a year at that point. While they were enjoying themselves immensely, most assuredly I was eating Gerbers or some such crap and spitting it up on the babysitter. Anyway... My old man loved prime rib more than anything else, and he had fond memories of that night for years to come. I would usually hear about the experience when we had one of their dressings on the kitchen table (remember Canadian Bacon dressing?), or when we pulled out the Seasoned Salt or Seasoned Pepper to bury the cottage cheese (it is the only way to make it palatable - that stuff is gross). To this day, the RJG household uses those seasonings on a regular basis. I love them.

That's the ancient history. The more recent history is, of course, when they opened their location on Maple Avenue in 1982. My parents were hell bent on a revisit, and since I was in high school then, I got to join them (after eating the Gerber's. Oh wait...). It was indeed excellent, as they had said. Formal (jeez, I even had to wear a tie), but very nice. In 1986, I sent them off in a limo (paid for on my paltry college budget no less) as they went there to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. And in 1988 I took them there, again for their anniversary, as the RJG actually had a paying job and could afford the dinner! My folks loved that place. I enjoyed it of course, but I'm not a fine dining nut. And I'm not sure the food is worth the premium. But, hey, whatever... if they liked it, why not indulge them? That was the RJG's last visit to Lawry's. Until...

...until December, 2013 - 25 years later. Now it's the official RJG's Mom's 75th birthday. Dad is sadly gone over a decade now, and we were discussing where she would like to have her celebratory dinner. She wanted one last visit to Lawry's. They've since moved to Far North Dallas off the Tollway, which makes sense, since Lawry's remains a "power lunch" kind of destination. The place is a time warp, and it's like stepping back in time to a formal dining establishment 40 years ago. It's very British in that aristocratic sort of way. Even though Mom was celebrating her 75th, she might as well have been in the Youth Group this night. It's actually nice to see folks in their 80s and 90s get out like this, without needing much help (or any). Hopefully I'll be so fit at that point. Mrs. RJG and the official Mother-in-Law Chula were in attendance as well to celebrate. Mom had one of her traditional "call drink" martini's, and Mrs. RJG and I settled on a couple of craft beers. After having a couple of salads, it was only Mom that went for the signature prime rib (Queen's cut of course), while the rest of us went for variations of fish. Chula and I had the Sea Bass, while Mrs. RJG had the fried red snapper. The Sea Bass was truly excellent, as were the potatoes. I seemed to enjoy the red snapper more than the wife, but she said it was pretty good. They also had a side of mushrooms, which all agreed to be excellent.

During the Christmas season, they have Victorian era Carolers wandering about - though unfortunately they were singing whatever people wanted to hear. Such as those Darwinian era classics "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" (ugh, really?). Mom picked out something more appropriate. Good thing, as I wouldn't have a clue what to ask for.

Well, anyway, Lawry's is a snapshot in time. I doubt we'll ever go back, unless one of my business partners insists on it. It's very good. It's very expensive. And on both points, they always have been.

Website

Lawry's the Prime Rib on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Lan ~ Haltom City, Texas

You may have noticed that we haven't featured any Vietnamese restaurants in the RJG yet (though Mr. Music did one a few months ago). We rarely eat Vietnamese is the obvious reason. And to be honest, we haven't been motivated to do such, and tend to spend our Asian food dollars on the excellent local Thai restaurants almost exclusively, with an occasional Chinese take-out meal. Strange then when you realize that Mrs. RJG and I, when we were dating love birds in 1996, spent most of our dinner time at one Vietnamese restaurant in Denver. That would be Kim Ba, and it remains, perhaps not surprisingly, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the country. We were regular visitors until 2003 when we relocated to NE Tarrant. (And I hope to write about it on the RJG at some point). So when we arrived here, we asked about local Vietnamese food, and were promptly pointed to Haltom City. We tried a couple of the noodle houses from there, and they were definitely good, and perhaps one day we will revisit those places (that are remaining nameless for now) and do a quick writeup. But for whatever reason, we just stopped. We couldn't see ourselves going any further south in Haltom City than Bangkok Cuisine - and we are regulars at that fine Thai restaurant to this day. We've had a couple of Vietnamese restaurants up here in Southlake and Keller, but they either went out of business or they're just not that good.

Earlier this year we had an excellent bowl of pho while in Santa Fe, New Mexico - and that prompted Mrs. RJG to suggest that perhaps we get back down to Haltom City and soon. And finally that moment arrived on a recent Sunday. Mrs. RJG suggested I put away NFL Red Zone for the final half of the second games (sacrilege!) and go for some Vietnamese food. And shoot, the Cowboys had the game in hand. I mean it was 26-3 over Green Bay at home. Surely even they won't screw this up. Ah, the memories.... Anyway I agreed to it. So I went over to Urbanspoon to see what they said was the highest rated Vietnamese restaurant in Haltom City. And up popped My Lan. That wasn't one we'd been to before, and so we pointed the cattle mobile south and off we went. 121 to Beach, head west past Belknap, right turn in the first shopping center, and we're there. We recognize this center for Thai Belknap (an OK Thai place, but there's much better) and Pho Bella, the latter which might be closed now.

Like many Vietnamese restaurants, the inside decor is non-existent. It's like eating inside a gas station convenience store with poor lighting and old booths. Service is just there - meaning when they have time to get to you, they will. Otherwise you wait, and don't complain. My Lan serves the local Vietnamese immigrant community, and they are all about great food and reasonable prices. The Dining Experience is not high on their list of priorities. OK with us! Mrs. RJG and I were joined by my official Mother-in-Law known in these pages as Chula. I had a bowl of Meatball soup, Mrs RJG had the grilled beef on vermicelli, and Chula had the Lemongrass chicken. My bowl was huge, with an excellent broth filled with cilantro and chives. The meatballs were firm and tasty. Mrs. RJG's grilled beef was superb, with wonderful charbroiled tastes. And I quite liked the lemongrass chicken sample I tried, which had a nice zip to it.

Maybe we'll try another Vietnamese restaurant in Haltom City, but we don't need to. My Lan is excellent, and truly all we could want for the style (beyond perhaps a nicer restaurant recalling our beloved Kim Ba in Denver). Need a suggestion for Vietnamese? Give My Lan a shot. Just come with an appetite and no expectations of fine dining.

Note: Closed on Wednesday's.

Website
 
My Lan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 27, 2013

*** CLOSED *** Apeizza e Vino ~ Southlake, Texas

For the second new restaurant that the RJG tried, after a lengthy cold spell, I had awaited a visit from Mr. Music - a true connoisseur of the Napoletana pizza tradition - to try NE Tarrant's latest coal oven venture. With Campania (Southlake) going completely down the tubes (our last visit was not good, and it seemed to be on its last legs), and INZO (Roanoke) starting to mail it in, there is definitely room for a new pizza place in Northeast Tarrant with a 900 degree oven. Grimaldi's (Grapevine) pretty much owns this market as far as the RJG is concerned (and Coal Vines (Southlake) which is slightly different in my mind). But there's a new sheriff in town! Let me introduce to you all Apeizza e Vino, the second location for the burgeoning Denver based chain. Lafayette is east of Boulder, and it's quite ironic that one of our favorite coal oven pizza places in the Denver area is a small chain called Proto's. And the location we tried was in Lafayette! But I never knew about Apeizza e Vino (with only two votes on Urbanspoon, I have to think it's new there too).

The name is literal, and the restaurant primarily focuses on their pizza and a healthy wine list. A limited scope is always a welcome idea to the RJG, as we know then that they are focused (or should be anyway) on their core product. Beers are fairly basic, and they also have salads and appetizers.  We split a salad, and each went with a pizza. The salad was excellent (and quite large, similar to Grimaldi's in that way). I tried the basic Margherita pizza with added homemade Italian sausage and Mr. Music had the Salsiccia e Funghi (Sausage and Mushroom). We were both more than pleased with the pizza texture and sauce. The Italian sausage is truly divine, and not the "off the truck" variety. In speaking with the owner's wife, she stated that if you want it crispier (the way Mrs. RJG likes it) - then it's just a matter of oven placement. The pizzas are bigger than individual size (except for teenagers on the football team of course), so be prepared to take some home. We thought the prices were reasonable, so the overall value is quite good. As an aside, the oven was handmade in Italy and shipped here, and it has the owner's named spelled out in the tile (Debastiani).

Apeizza e Vino sits in an older Southlake strip center on the south side of Southlake Blvd (a couple of minutes west from 114), next to Duff's Wings that we covered here earlier in the year. This spot has not done well in the past (it's a bit hidden), but definitely give it at least one opportunity. We think you'll want to go back. We definitely plan on adding it to the rotation!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TruFire Kitchen and Bar ~ Southlake, Texas

OK, let's see if I can get a few posts out before the end of the year. Obviously I have been absent these last few months (though I did faithfully update older entries as we went). The main reason for that was, as indicated in some earlier posts, my real paying job became all consuming. As such, from the time we went to Burrito Jimmy in late August until the 3rd week of November, we didn't try a single new restaurant in DFW. Mostly we ate at home, or when we did go out, only to our tried and true favorites. We have 4 restaurants we dined at that are new to the RJG (or new to the blog in one case), and I'd like to wrap up the year with those entries, and then I'll conclude with a year-end summary.

So the dry spell ended with a visit from the Tampa Pound, one of my business partners who has graced these pages in the past. I tend to note places like this to try on "expense account" money first, and then if proven to be good, I'll return. Yea, the RJG can be cheap at times... TruFire sits in the SW corner of the Southlake Town Square, near the new Del Frisco Grill. I believe there were a couple of sports bars here prior, which is the wrong location for that kind of venture. TruFire is the modern kind of American restaurant that is chef driven, but not necessarily expensive or overly fru-fru. The menu is definitely Mediterranean focused, with a specific Italian flair. After ordering a bottle of wine, we decided to try the "Paddle Board" appetizer which is a sampler of high quality meats, cheeses, spreads, and breads. Probably they went across the street to Central Market to get the ingredients, but that's not a complaint. It was quite good. The TP went for the Spicy Garlic Noodles, which I would describe as an Asian/Italian fusion with shrimp, chicken, arugula, prosciutto, romano cheese, mushrooms, and crushed red pepper. He loved it (more on that in a bit). I tried the chicken parm. Since none of the official Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant know how to make it, I figured I had nothing to lose. They have a "small" portion and a large. I went with the small. Fortunately. My goodness, it was a full serving by itself and I could not imagine devouring a large. Large, small, makes no difference if it isn't any good. Ah... but it is. Fantastic in fact! Easily the best chicken parm I've had in the area. No longer do we have to venture to Dallas for this dish. A nicely seasoned and breaded mix and then it's baked to perfection. It's actually crispy like it's supposed to be! It's served with linguini. I tend to be a traditionalist, and want something similar to spaghetti, but I was willing to go with the flat noodle. The other issue I have with linguini, is most places don't know how to cook it, and leave it mushy. Not TruFire! It was al dente. And the pomodoro sauce is delicious, very similar to what you would actually get in Italy rather than New York.We passed on dessert and decided to head over to the RJG household for some beers and music (yes, The Tampa Pound is another music head like the RJG and Mr. Music). It was here that The TP starts weaving his tale about dinner to Mrs. RJG, who starts salivating. She looks at me, points her finger and declares "You're taking me there... ... and soon!"

And so it came to pass, about a week later on a Saturday afternoon, Mrs. RJG and I ventured over to the Town Square for some Christmas shopping and a lunch at TruFire. We skipped the appetizer and each had a Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale (a good brewery from Maryland). She had exactly what she came for: The Spicy Garlic Noodles - and "add a little more spice" she said. She absolutely loved it! It was everything the TP described to her. I had to try the Chicken Parm one more time just to see if the dinner the other night wasn't an anomaly. Nope - exact same. Perfect. As we were chatterboxing with a couple of other patrons of the restaurant, as well as the waiters, it turns out the two dishes we each ordered are perennial favorites of many.

With great food and reasonable prices, consider TruFire a regular stop on the RJG tour.

Website

Trufire Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bleu Monkey Grill ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas

On now for the final restaurant from Mr. Music's Hot Springs trip. This one apparently did not live up to its lofty reputation.

Our friend, Ms. ChefGirl had done some research and wanted to try a place called the Bleu Monkey. It looked like a modern, American spot. The menu had some interesting items and they boasted a dozen or so beers on tap so we decided to give it a try. My buddy, BeerBoy and I bolted for the bar, but the most exciting things on tap were Blue Moon and Goose Island Honker’s ale. I opted for iced tea. We sat down and looked at the menu and I actually saw a few things that looked really good. Cuban sandwich? Bleu Monkey Shrimp, a dish made with pan seared shrimp seasoned with a pickapeppa sauce served with Cuban black beans, fresh mango salsa, steamed white rice and fried plantains was a contender as well. But Mr. Music settled on what seemed to be a twist on a Vietnamese specialty: Lemongrass chicken sandwich! Grilled lemongrass chicken with marinated cucumbers, carrots, onion, chilies, and cilantro all on a fresh roll with shallot mayo. Mrs. Music ordered the Crabby patty! Being a huge SpongeBob fan, Music Junior immediately wanted that too until I explained it was a patty made from crab! With that she opted for chicken tenders. Baby Music got some grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. The food came and everything looked really good and the portions were good sized too. The crab cake on the Crabby Patty was huge! Mrs. Music took a big bite of her Crabby Patty. And then another. After a few bites she said the patty barely had any crab and was almost all corn meal! I took a bite myself. It was mushy and didn’t taste like crab at all. My Lemongrass chicken didn’t have much lemongrass or any other seasoning that I could taste either. I noticed Baby Music wasn’t eating her food so I tried the grilled chicken. Dry and bland! The mashed potatoes were as well. How could everything sound so good on the menu, look so good, yet all be so blah? Our friends also said their meals were lacking taste as well. Our waiter was really good and the staff was friendly, but overall what a disappointment! I couldn’t believe this place got “Best new restaurant in Arkansas” by the Arkansas times!

Website

Bleu Monkey Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The English Muffin ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas

(photo courtesy of Urbanspoon)

Oh where have thou gone RJG? Well, believe it or not, we haven't been to a single new restaurant since Burrito Jimmy in late August. You can always tell when the RJG is in work hell by my total absence from this blog. My last two months have averaged 75 hours a week (some closer to 90). I use the weekends to catch up on stuff a normal person would do during the week. When I'm cooking on this blog, so to speak, I'm at a usual 45 to 50 hour a week pace. And even better are the stay at home vacations. We have been eating out some - certainly not near as much as normal - but mainly to our favorites around NE Tarrant. I do sense the clouds are breaking some. November might be my re-entry point. For certain in December we should be back on pace. I have been diligent in keeping up with the updates, which keeps me tethered to the blog in some form or fashion anyway.

Just because the RJG stopped doesn't mean that DFW did. There are a lot of new restaurants in the area that we are anxious to try, plus some new breweries coming along such as Grapevine Craft Beer, Shannon Brewing (Keller), and Cobra Brewing (Lewisville - and a personal friend of our own Mr. Music).

And speaking of Mr. Music, we still have two more entries from his Hot Springs trip back in August. Time to get these out there!

This restaurant got some of the most promising reviews of any place we read about, so we were excited to go. Nestled in a corner spot that overlooked Lake Hamilton, we got a nice long table by the window. The menu was pretty basic: This is for certain a breakfast diner. I ordered a spinach omelet with Swiss cheese and a side of fruit. Mrs. Music ordered Eggs Benedict. Music Junior got pancakes and Baby Music had some scrambled eggs and a sausage patty. The omelet was really good - lots of spinach and the eggs were whipped or something as they were so fluffy! The cheese they used was processed Swiss cheese food, not real Swiss cheese. I would have preferred real Swiss, but it was still good. The biggest disappointment for me was the fruit. I was expecting a bowl of fresh fruit, but it was canned fruit in syrup. My dish also came with a sourdough English muffin. I’m not sure what brand they used, but it was thick and sour and really, really good! Mrs. Music loved her eggs Benedict. She asked for the yolks to be fully cooked and they were perfect. ChefGirl got the homemade corned beef hash with hash browns and said it was fantastic. She gave me a bite and I agreed - some of the best corned beef hash I’ve had. It was very meaty with almost no filler. Overall, it was a good experience. So much so that BeerBoy wanted to go again to try the corned beef hash. We did and I had the same omelet but went with home fried potatoes instead of the fruit. They were great! They sautéed fresh onion, bell pepper, and diced potatoes on the grill for a tasty companion to my omelet. Mrs. Music had a seafood omelet and loved it. BeerBoy loved his corned beef hash and gave me some - again I concurred. We had read the coffee was very good and so we all had it and agreed. On each of our visits our waitress was friendly and attentive. Two good experiences!

The English Muffin on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rocky's Corner ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas


(excellent photo courtesy of Robby Virus)

I've really been slammed at work in the last few weeks. I have so many things I want to cover here in the RJG - plus more on our vacation trip to Northern California, as well as my working week in Santa Fe. Not to mention the ever continuing reviews of our favorite Denver restaurants. And there's plenty of new places here in Northeast Tarrant we need to try. To be honest, I don't see a break in my schedule for at least another month. But I'll hold out hope that the 70 hour weeks will subside again.

In the meantime, let's continue to wrap up on Mr. Music's Hot Springs journey. Here's his next submission:

Our friend, Chef Girl said her kids would really like some simple, Italian pasta. The waitress who tables for an excellent restaurant called Rolando’s, told us she really liked Angel’s In The Park for Italian food. We looked it up online and saw it received decent reviews, but with 4 kids under 10 with us, we were not really up for a $$$ restaurant that only got decent reviews. We decided to surf up some other Italian restaurants. We saw that Rocky’s Corner had hundreds of visits and the highest ranking for Italian food in the area at multiple sites. Best of all, it was a very small hole-in-the-wall with $ - all the right ingredients for a great Italian place! They specialize in Chicago style pizza and Chicago beef sandwiches! Wooohooo! Several reviews had indicated that the chicken parmesan sub was the dish to get, so Mrs. Music said she’d have that. Just as ChefGirl and I were saying we’d have the same, the waitress said they have not had that on the menu for a long time. I kept eyeing the Chicago beef, but it just wasn’t calling my name. We ended up getting a couple pizzas, pasta with meatballs, and BeerBoy got some Fettuccine Alfredo. The pizza was not anything like any Chicago pizza I’ve ever seen. It was a thin, crispy crust on the bottom and fatter crust around the edges. The crust was brushed with garlic oil which was nice, but aside from that the toppings were very sparse. The sauce was decent but overall the pizza was just OK. It would rank it higher than Pizza Hut or Pizza Inn, but not by much. The pasta dishes were pretty good, but nothing special. BeerBoy said his Alfredo sauce was a little plain. Our waitress was nice and did a fine job, but I don’t think we’ll be back.

Rockys Corner on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Burrito Bandito ~ Redding, California



OK - where were we before I was so rudely interrupted by my official job? Ah yes, we were munching on burritos. And we were sporadically choosing locations from our last vacation a week ago.

On this day, we were taking the drive on I-5 south from Medford, Oregon back to the San Francisco Bay Area. I had done this trip in reverse way back in 2002 - at that time I had a 2 week business trip from San Diego to Seattle, with one week at my satellite office in Pleasanton. But Mrs. RJG wasn't with me, so this would be her first time to experience. The trip from Medford to Redding, through the Mt. Shasta and Shasta Lake area, is beautiful. One of the more attractive Interstate highway routes you will ever encounter outside of I-70 in central Colorado. Redding is either the gateway to the beautiful Shasta area -or- boring agricultural land depending on which way you're going.

As you may have read here before, the RJG has been to all 50 state capitals at one point or another (having gathered Olympia, Washington last year to complete the task. Ah yes, good observation by you - why didn't I get it in 2002? Because dummy here didn't stop. That doesn't count). However, while watching the show "How the States Got Their Shapes" on the History Channel a couple of years back, I learned that we were supposed to have a 51st state (or 49th at the time). The state was to be called Jefferson, made up of about 5 counties in northern California and southern Oregon. And the capital was to be Yreka. But something called Pearl Harbor got in the way, and it all fell through the cracks from there. I never knew that! Since I only drove through back in 2002, I ensured we stopped and got the proverbial T-shirt. Might as well cover that base while we're here - it may surface again! But the timing wasn't right to eat in Yreka, and off to Redding we headed for lunch.

Burrito Bandito is just the kind of dumb name that is a magnet for the RJG. Urbanspoon had the chain rated very highly so we decided to stop at one of the two Redding locations (Placer) for a big ol' fat burrito. I went for "Juan's favorite" Pollo while Mrs. RJG had the carne asada Burrito Bowl. The burrito is GIANT, which was fine by me as I was starving. The chicken was delicious as was the rice, cheese, and everything else. I even went for the refried beans instead of black beans, which gave the flavor a whole new texture. Mrs. RJG's carne asada tasted truly like a charbroiled steak, rather than the steamed meat we've come to expect. She loved it. And each table had their own bottle of "Burrito Bandito Habanero Sauce". Ah - load me up with that! Overall, Burrito Bandito makes a fantastic burrito. After our wonderful meal, we walked next door to the grocery store and picked out a couple of local to northern California craft brew micro bombers (that we can't get at home of course) and we were set for the patio seating in the Bay Area later that night :-)

Website

Burrito Bandito West on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 2, 2013

High Tech Burrito ~ Windsor, California


And while on the topic of burritos, how about I cover off on a couple of those California chains I referenced?

If you've never had the pleasure to drive the 101 north out of San Francisco via the Golden Gate bridge, then it's surely something you should strive for one day. I've done it dozens of times in the past, and I never get tired of it. Over the years, we stayed in various areas in and around Napa and Sonoma. In the last couple of years, we've made Windsor our base camp for exploring the wine country, specifically the Russian River Valley. There's a very nice and newish Hampton Inn there, with well stocked grocery stores and restaurants nearby. And a State Park with running trails, which is perfect for the RJG couple, as we need to run off all that wine, beer, and food! And Windsor avoids the hustle and bustle of Santa Rosa just to the south - so it's truly an ideal retreat. On this trip, we drove by many wineries, but we didn't stop this time and do the whole wine tasting, order a case, ship to Texas routine - rather deciding to continue our focus on beer rather than wine. But just the drives themselves are pleasant. And we went all the way to the Pacific Coast this time, which is about an hour away. It was typically foggy and dreary - absolute perfect weather for a sun baked Texas couple looking to get out of the heat. It's always such a strange concept to me - but the words California, summer, afternoon, and 57 degrees Fahrenheit never seemed to go together. And yet there we were.

Rather than have a full lunch, with alcohol, and then start driving through the countryside, the concept of fast food with soda is far more appealing. And on the last couple of visits to Windsor we've become fond of High Tech Burrito, a regional chain based in Northern California. Perhaps not the most interesting nom de plume they could have selected, but when it comes to the food, High Tech has one of the better burritos around. They have a variety of traditional and exotic options to choose from, as well as tacos and quesadillas. I tend to stay traditional and go with grilled chicken. It's a pretty basic rice, beans, onions, cheese, mild chili mix - but everything they do is excellent and great tasting. If that's all there was, I'm not sure I'd return. But I absolutely encourage all of you to get the homemade chips, which they serve in a bag, with the (oh, you know it's coming don't you?) NUCLEAR salsa. It's a thick mixture of smoking hot green and red chiles. I can't stop plowing chips in my mouth with a big ole scoop of that scary looking heap of wonderful green. Or throwing it on the burrito while I'm at it. They charge extra for it, but it's worth it and they give you plenty. Mrs. RJG went exotic and had a Cajun Burrito Bowl, and loved it. Oh, and she recommends the Guac as well.

Want a quick lunch, but filling enough to absorb all the wine you're about to try? Go to High Tech Burrito first and you'll have plenty that will need soaking up!

Website

High Tech Burrito on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 31, 2013

JavaPrimo Coffee House ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas

Our next entry from the adventures of Mr. Music and family while in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The first time we stopped by this place, Mrs. Music and ChefGirl just stopped in for a coffee drink. We like to try local places over chains for coffee when out of town and the coffee drinks were very good. Mrs. Music was surfing up a different breakfast place to try since we had been to the English Muffin twice. We laughed when we saw that the place we thought was a coffee shop was recommended for their breakfasts too! 

We ventured in to the very small, but cozy place. It was sort of like Café Brazil, or perhaps a little like Panera with a touch of Obzeet in that they had gifts, cards, creams, and soaps for sale. The menu had some nice breakfast and lunch options. They even had brick oven pizza that looked really good and a few beers on tap: Hoegarden and 2 others with some interesting choices for bottles as well. I also noticed they had quite a few bakery items - all made from scratch. The cakes (carrot, Italian crème, and chocolate cream) all looked amazing! I went for the breakfast wrap with eggs, turkey, spinach, and cheese in a honey wheat wrap served with homemade salsa and a bowl of fresh cut fruit – ahhh, fresh fruit. Mrs. Music had a breakfast bagel with ham, eggs, and cheddar which also came with a fruit cup with fresh cut melon (casaba, cantaloupe and watermelon), orange, pineapple, and strawberries – did I mention how happy I was that it was fresh? :) Music Junior got Belgian waffles as did ChefGirl’s two kiddos. Baby Music just got a scrambled egg, but had some of our fruit. ChefGirl got a lunch item - grilled chicken and spicy hummus wrap while BeerBoy got the tortilla chicken soup. My wrap was great! I kept eying Mrs. Music’s yummy bagel sandwich! It was an oversized-everything bagel (big around but not too thick) with the goodies hanging out the sides! She said her taste buds were very happy! ChefGirl said the homemade hummus was great and spicy - her wrap was a hit. BeerBoy’s soup was very thick and more like a stew rather than soup. It was really good, but he was hoping for something with more broth. The Belgian waffles were fresh and tasty. Baby Music’s egg looked like the size of an ostrich egg! It was fluffy and very tasty. 

We all agreed that JavaPrimo was Primo!

Website

JavaPrimo Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 30, 2013

Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas


Well apparently the RJG is now going to be a major player in the Hot Springs restaurant blogger community! This is, of course, due to a recent run of reviews that our own Mr. Music just composed for the blog. He sent in no less than 5 reviews while we were away on vacation this week. That vacation, by the way, was to the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California, and Southern Oregon. I really want to get some reviews out from that trip. We'll see. I had mentioned in July that we had recently returned from a trip, but never mentioned where. On that trip we had gone to Alberta - primarily Banff and Calgary. I did manage to get some thumbnail sketch reviews onto Urbanspoon for about 5 of the restaurants. Maybe I'll flesh those out here eventually.

OK, onto Mr. Music's latest adventure in Hot Springs!

We had taken a fun trip to Mount Ida to dig for crystals and diamonds at a crystal mine. 

But it was here that we found the most precious gem in Hot Springs! As soon as Mrs. Music read that they had Cuban and Latin American dishes, I knew I wanted to go to Rolando’s. One look at the menu and I wondered what we were waiting for! Housed in a building built in the 1800s and just across from the bath houses in historic Hot Springs, this place has character! The décor inside has very interesting artwork. In back, you can climb some stairs, then climb some more, and finally end up on a landing that seems to be in the middle of a jungle! The outside patio is an elevated deck on the side of a large hill surrounded by trees. Yes, of course there is a bar out here! If it weren’t a hot and very humid day, we surely would have eaten out here! We were happy to sit at the long, wooden table in the a/c with the neat artwork to ponder! 

The menu had so many interesting items, I really had a hard time deciding what to get. As we explored the interesting menu, we were served fresh made chips and a salsa that had black beans and corn in it as well as tomatoes and seasoning. It was different and great, and went nicely with our pitcher of delicious, homemade sangria! Mrs. Music and I decided to try the Latin American tortilla soup - a twist on the traditional Mexican version. The broth was light but rich with chicken flavor. It had white cheese, tortilla strips, lime juice, tomatoes, slices of avocado, fresh cilantro, and green onions which was nice with the light broth. It wasn’t that much different, but very good. Mrs. Music decided on Lula’s enchiladas. Choice of chicken or pork wrapped in corn tortillas with their special tomatillo crème sauce! I urged her to get the pork. I’ve never seen pork enchilada’s anywhere that I can remember! She opted for the chicken, which were great! The tomatillo sauce with sour cream was divine and the chicken in the enchiladas was very well seasoned. I went for the Quesadillas de Chivo which were stuffed with what they called EcuaRico pork - a fusion of Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican? Maybe. But whatever it was, it was amazing! Slow roasted, nicely seasoned shredded pork with goat cheese! I don’t really put much stock in presentation, but it was a very pretty arrangement. The 4 stuffed wedges placed in a square on the plate around a large pile of white rice and black beans. Two rivers of sauce crossed the pile in an X - a mango sauce and something called Argentinean sauce which was a little spicy and had a tanginess to it. They worked nicely together and married the gentle flavors of the rice and beans. There were also some marinated veggies with cucumber and onion. OMG, everything was out of this world! The pork was to die for and mixed with the rich goat cheese, I was in heaven! Music Junior got the pork tamales and loved them! I had one and the masa was thick, but was very light and a little more crumbly than traditional tamale masa. It was amazing! The pork was the same pork used in the quesadillas and was plentiful. Baby Music had chicken tenders with white rice and black beans and everything was excellent! BeerBoy aka SoupBoy opted for a bowl of the Ecuadorian Chicken soup - in fact he asked if they could make an extra large bowl he could have as his full meal which they graciously did. It was a simple soup, but he loved the rich chicken brother and nice pieces of chicken in it. ChefGirl had Jose’s Quesadillas which were just like mine but had white cheese instead of the goat cheese. She agreed that the pork was amazing and the dish overall was fantastic. Mrs. Music wanted to come back the next day for lunch to get the enchiladas with pork! I was happy to oblige! ChefGirl’s kiddos had a hamburger and soft tacos which were all gobbled up. In fact they said it was the best food they had on the entire trip! I would love to go to this place again and again and try everything on the menu! Unfortunately we didn’t get back before we left, but I guarantee we will! 

Website

Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don Juan Authentic Mexican Restaurant ~ Hot Springs, Arkansas

(thanks to Urbanspoon for the photo)

Two posts in one day! I've been wanting to get this post out from our correspondent Mr. Music. He's obviously been doing some traveling and sent this in during the week. I had a busy week at the office, so here it finally is! Take it away Mr. Music...

The Music family took a little trip to Hot Springs for a last hurrah before school starts! We got into town a bit late and I was concerned that a sleepy town like Hot Springs might not have anything opened late - even on a Saturday night. We tried a couple places at 9:30 and struck out. As fate would have it, we happened on to a little Mexican place called Don Juan. Ahhh, opened until 10pm! Hmmm, Mexican food in Hot Springs, Arkansas? We shall see. 

As we walked in, the décor was totally 70s Tex-Mex like El Chico or El Fenix. We were seated in a booth and they brought chips and 2 cute little pitchers of salsa. The chips were hot and fresh. The salsa had very little heat, but was VERY tasty. Works for me! 

We surfed the menu for a time. Soft chicken taco with rice n beans for baby Music and chicken strips for Music Junior. Mrs. Music ordered a seafood quesadilla; I ordered the grilled tilapia fish tacos; $8 and $10. The meals came and they were ginormous! The quesadilla was a mountain! A big flour tortilla folded at what seemed like a 90 degree angle stuffed with crab, shrimp and Mexican quesadilla cheese - grilled on each side with plenty of sour cream and fresh guacamole. Mrs. Music said it was awesome as she pushed a big bite in my mouth. Indeed it was! The fish tacos were 3 corn tortillas laid flat and piled high with grilled tilapia, 2 large slices of fresh avocado, plenty of grilled pineapple, cabbage and cilantro. I could hardly get them folded. They came with a habanero sauce. I had asked the waiter if it was spicy and although he said it was, I figured it would be pretty tame based on the super mild salsa. Nope! I spooned a big glob onto my first bite and it lit me up! But it was delish atop the grilled pineapple, avocado and tilapia. What a contrast of great flavors! I’m usually pretty good about figuring out what else is in sauces, but not this time. It was thick and yellow but all I could taste was that lovely musky flavor that habaneros have - and fire! I kept slathering it on with every bite and I could tell my face was getting red but I couldn’t stop. Music Junior commented on how juicy her chicken strips were and begged me to try them. Yum! I tried the shredded chicken soft taco, beans and rice. They were all good, but nothing special. With a very friendly and helpful wait staff, we had a wonderful experience. We would certainly come again!

Website

Don Juan Authentic Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lupe's Tex Mex Grill ~ Keller, Texas


Back to our own grazing range, it was time to try the latest Mexican restaurant entry in our area. We'd been to the Bedford location once last summer, and it was definitely good, but we weren't really wowed by it. And since Bedford is a bit of a haul for us, and the 183/121 construction is a bit daunting, we just let the restaurant fall through the cracks of the RJG dining agenda. But now they've moved up our way, right near our own ranch land, in nearby Keller. The competition is stiff around here, with Anamia's (Southlake), Mi Pueblo (NRH), El Paseo (Keller), Fresco's (Watauga), and the Baja Grill mini chain (based in Grapevine) all nearby and all excellent.

So how did the new Lupe's, opened only a month ago, stack up? Quite well actually. Very well indeed... as in we need to go back shortly.

The restaurant setting is very nice, featuring a well decorated interior and a full bar. It sits in a newish strip mall on the west side of Rufe Snow, nearby to the Neighborhood Market.

We started, of course, with the excellent corn chips, which comes with a nicely spiced red salsa. At the same time we were munching on the chips, out came my frozen margarita. What a great flavor - and it packed a wallop too. They're pretty small, so I went for a second one. Weeeeee. I can't even remember the last time I had two frozen margaritas in the same setting. For the main course, Mrs. RJG  had the Mexico City Tacos and I had the Pollo Bravo. These dishes are variations on the same theme: They are both charbroiled white meat chicken slathered in what they call an "Atomic Sauce". While certainly they were spicy, the word "atomic" didn't necessarily come to mind. But most importantly they had a great flavor. I love the charbroiled chicken, just by itself. The Pollo Bravo is a large chicken breast and is buried in the sauce. Whereas the tacos lightly apply the same sauce. The rice and charro beans were excellent as well.

Lupe's makes a fine addition to the Mexican restaurant landscape in these parts of NE Tarrant. Give them a try and let us know what you think!

Website


Lupe's Tex Mex Grill on Urbanspoon

Lupe's Tex Mex Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

El Gabacho ~ Arlington, Texas


Mrs. RJG and I had a free Saturday, with absolutely no obligations for lunch, dinner, or anything else for that matter. So on days like this, the RJG likes to travel outside of our usual cow pasture here in Northeast Tarrant, and try something new. We've been pretty negligent with Arlington, and so I decided to point our cattle car straight south and see what happens. We both had a hankering for some Mexican food with a beer or margarita, and so with my handy dandy Urbanspoon App at my disposal, we went digging. After a couple of minutes of research, El Gabacho looked like the perfect place to try. And it was.

The first thing you'll notice upon arrival is that it takes a couple of minutes to get your bearings. Even though the restaurant is visible from the street, and there is outdoor patio seating, the actual entrance is inside a nice mini-mall called the Brownstone Village. Once inside the restaurant, you'll be immersed in the world of the Old West - at least according to Hollywood. According to Mrs. RJG, El Gabacho means "gringo", but apparently it is also a nickname for John Wayne, who's mug adorns the restaurant in just about every nook and cranny.

To get started, I had a frozen margarita which was perfect. It's amazing to me how few restaurants can get the balance of slushy ice, tequila, and other ingredients to work. And pack a buzz while at it. Mrs. RJG had a Boulevard (Kansas City) on tap. I tasted it, and it was one of their lighter offerings, but I wasn't able to ascertain which variety they had, and our waiter wasn't sure. Hey, when you order a Bud, it's Budweiser, and when you order a craft beer like Boulevard, it could be dozens of different varieties.

The chips and salsa were also a hit. The chips were better than average homemade corn. The red salsa comes out heated (I always like that) and has a nice garlic like flavor. A bit different from any other salsa I've tried. I would call the heat level medium hot. We asked for a hotter salsa, and they said they don't always have one, but they did on this day. Out came this thick blended green and red chile sauce. Ah, it was delicious and definitely packed more heat. It's of the add-up variety, so it took awhile to kick in.

Two items leaped off the menu for us: Enchiladas Verdes and the Tex Mex Tacos. Each with rice and refried beans. Mrs. RJG got the former, which of course I tried as well. Right away, I could tell it was going to be delicious, given that the chicken looked heavily seasoned with red chile before it was even rolled into the tortilla. The chicken, cheese, and spicy/sweet green tomatillo sauce was excellent. We both agreed it was just a tad dry, so we probably will opt for more sauce on the next visit. By deduction, I of course tried the Tex Mex Tacos, which are not exactly what you might think with a moniker such as that. These are not ground beef crunchy tacos, but rather charbroiled white meat chicken stuffed into homemade fried corn shells - and loaded with cheese, lettuce and tomato slices. The chicken by itself was delicious enough, but with the fried corn shell it ended up being sublime. Add some of that spicy salsa on top for the perfect symphony. We both agreed that the rice was excellent and flavorful, as were the creamy refried beans. Perfect texture, excellent taste.

Obviously we were quite impressed with our one visit to El Gabacho. For certain we will try for an annual visit... or more, if we can get to Arlington often enough. Moo.

El Gabacho on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 16, 2013

*** CLOSED *** Daddy Jack's ~ Southlake, Texas


Every time the RJG travels to New England, I like to frequent a seafood chain from Boston called Legal Seafood. They're famous for clam "chowda", New England styled crab cakes, and baked fishes amongst many other things. Daddy Jack's is clearly aiming for that market. Right down to the red and white checkered tablecloths - which is not strictly an Italian tradition.

So is Daddy Jack's really as good as Legal? Well, no, of course not. Legal has the distinct advantage of having the Atlantic Ocean right next to it. But Daddy Jack's is certainly very good, and one of the best seafood houses in DFW.  More casual and less pricey than Trulucks, which the food is on par with.

Nearly 9 full years ago, we took Mr. RJG's official Mom to the Daddy Jacks in Coppell for her birthday. In doing research for this entry, it appears that particular Daddy Jack's is run completely separate from the locations listed here. Perhaps it started as a franchise entry, and later decided to go solo.

On this visit, I was joined by one of my business partners that we will name for this blog as The Tampa Pound. He's been in these pages before, but we just didn't name him. And besides, he just moved from Raleigh to Tampa, so he gets a new name. It seems seafood is where we tend to gravitate, and since he's the one with the expense account, I let him lead the way on food choice. I just pick the restaurant. The Tampa Pound also arrived with fantastical tales of his recent journey to Alaska, so the setting was appropriate.

And on that topic, that's exactly what he ordered - Alaska King Crab legs. At one point, I asked him how they were, but his face was buried into the claws, and all I could hear was a "hmm-mmm" and his head nodding up and down. OK - so that worked out it would seem... Meanwhile, I ordered the Baked Stuffed Shrimp (which was on the Specials Board). I wouldn't necessarily call it "stuffed". What they do is mix Ritz crackers and crab meat, roll it up, and lay the ball on top of each shrimp. It's a very rich dish, as it all sits in a light cream sauce. It's very good, though again the stuffing aspect of it should be questioned. The flavors didn't mesh as you might expect. We each opened the meal with Lobster Bisque with added claw meat. Super creamy, rich, and delicious.

Daddy Jack's has a fine selection of bottled beers, though nothing on tap. I enjoyed an Anchor Steam and an Alaskan Amber, and the Tampa Pound had a few Blue Moon's.

Not sure why the Urbanspoon grade is so low. This was our first visit to this location, and perhaps they fixed what ailed them.

If I had a complaint, it would be the location itself. This was originally an old southern home cooking restaurant (which sits conveniently on the edge of the Southlake Town Square), wonderfully re-purposed by Daddy Jack's. But the windows face the setting western sun. As such, the interior is extremely bright for the dinner hour especially during the summer. While they do of course have window coverings, I think they might do well to invest in some drapes. I'm not too keen on squinting my eyes throughout the meal.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Taqueria Burritos Locos ~ Grapevine, Texas

(thanks to Polyonax for picture)

...And so after returning from my cattle drive, I spun tales to Mrs. RJG about my day with Mr. Music in the far off land of Denton. Most of the stories were met with an eye roll, or "better you than me", but it was my description of Taqueria Guanajuato that had her salivating. Mrs. RJG, born and bred south of the border, is always up for a true taste of the homeland. With that backdrop, we decided it was high time to finally try Taqueria Burritos Locos, a very successful taqueria that we once remembered being a Chicken Express.

The first thing you will notice is that Burritos Locos is not a small, fast food place. It is in fact a full service restaurant. And as such, they cater to a much larger audience than a traditional taqueria would. But we were there for tacos and sopes, and so we stuck with the game plan. One advantage of the sit down restaurant, of course, is the complimentary chips and salsa. They provide two, both with a pretty good spice kick. Mrs. RJG and I enjoyed the green slightly over the red. The chips were of average flavor.

I went with my standard trio of al pastor, pollo, and carnitas. The Missus also went with the al pastor taco as well as a carne asada sope. The carnitas, as is typical for the RJG unfortunately, was not very good. The textures and flavor just aren't there, making me pine for the wonder that is Taqueria Guanajuato. The chicken, although all white meat, lacked flavor. We asked if they had a special "taco sauce", which they did. But unfortunately it was one of those lime tomatillo sauces, that are always way too sour, with no fire at all. It was frankly terrible. On the flip side, Mrs. RJG very much enjoyed her carne asada sope, so there's one for the plus column.

Doesn't sound that great so far, huh? Well, the main reason for us to revisit Taqueria Burritos Locos, is for the al pastor. It's one of the best al pastor tacos we've had outside of Mexico. And why would that be? Because they actually have the spit with the pineapple on top (hmm... sounds funny doesn't it? - anyway, hopefully you know what I mean by spit!) Now I'll be the first to admit that I've hardly sampled even a small fraction of the taqueria's in DFW, but for the ones that I have, this is the first one to feature that. It makes all the difference.

Service was not Taqueria Burritos Locos long suit either, and it seemed there were many impatient diners on our visit. Since we've only been once, it's too early to gauge if that's a trend or one-time unfortunate event. I mention it simply because I think if we're to revisit Taqueria Burritos Locos again, we would forgo the restaurant experience and take a bag of al pastor tacos for the cattle drive home...

Website
 
Taqueria Burritos Locos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Oak St. Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor ~ Denton, Texas


As mentioned in the Taqueria Guanajuato post, Mr. Music and I also dipped into Oak Street Tavern for one or two craft beers, before heading back over to the Taco Lady. This is a frequent hangout for Mr. Music, and I was eager to try it. Oak St. Drafthouse sits in a truly a cool setting that they describe as thus: "Being the third oldest house in the City of Denton, we’re making sure to keep the history and integrity of the house alive by making minimal changes inside the house.  (and also not to piss off the ghosts). All of the decor inside and surrounding Oak St. Drafthouse were found at local vintage and antique shops around Denton.  Our extremely large patio beer garden allows for a great time. On the weekends, we open the back bar for your enjoyment.  We have a very relaxing environment where people can carry on a conversation without getting distracted by loud music or tv’s."

Our plan for one to two beers turned into 3 as we met and chatted with Ben from The Beer Drinker's Society (see website link to your right) and Daynor from the Best Little Brewfest in Texas. We sat in what would have been the family room, and compared notes on the Texas craft brew movement that has really taken hold in the last 3 years.

From my personal experience, Oak St. Drafthouse is the finest pure beer tavern in DFW comparing favorably to similar places in Denver or Portland. They have 72 taps - 48 inside and 24 outside (and the outside is generally not open until the early evening). Of those taps, many of them are local to Texas craft beers. And some of them are hard to find elsewhere. So they have the robust selection of a Flying Saucer or Ginger Man, combined with a laser focus on local product. All in an authentic late 1800's setting. Doesn't get better than that.

Website

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Taqueria Guanajuato ~ Denton, Texas

Saturday was a day of music, beer, and dining with Mr. Music and family. After absorbing a few vinyl albums, Mr. Music and I plotted our lunch and afternoon activity. We decided to go to Taqueria Guanajuato for some tacos, followed by a stop at Oak St. Drafthouse for a local craft beer or three (more on that in another post), and then we'd stop by The Taco Lady for some more tacos. And then off to hit Denton's record stores, and perhaps another bar or two. Back to Casa Mr. Music for tunes, and then to dinner with the whole Mr. Music brood (which turned out to be Dough in North Dallas. I'm not ready to write about it though. Need another visit). That was the plan anyway, and for the most part we stuck to it.

I'm not going to write about The Taco Lady. It was definitely good, and I gave it a thumbs up on Urbanspoon, but we weren't wowed. But we were both absolutely floored by how good the upstart Taqueria Guanajuato is. This is exactly how a taqueria should be. We each settled on 3 small tacos. I went with a basic trio of carne asada, pollo, and carnitas. Mr. Music had asada, pastor, and tinga. I started with the carnitas, as that seems to always be the riskiest of the offerings. Best carnitas I've ever had. Or close to it anyway. Crispy, tender, and extremely flavorful. I could eat 10 of 'em easily. The carne asada was no less mindblowing. So tender was the meat, with a wonderful charbroiled taste. And the chicken was icing on the cake - tender chunks of seasoned white meat chicken. No rooster strips here! Mr. Music raved about the tinga and al pastor. We also decided to get chips, as we had to sample the mortar and pestle red sauce staring us in the face. Fiery and delicious. The green bottle sauce was no less fantastic.

This is a typical taqueria, so it sits in an old building, and is very small with only a few tables. You order at the counter. For hardcore taco eaters, they do have lengua and sesos. Also gorditas and sopes and many other authentic offerings from south of the border.

OK, taqueria heads: Head to Denton, and tell me what you think! Are we wrong?

Taqueria Guanajuato on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Niki's Italian Bistro ~ North Richland Hills, Texas


We've spoken of Niki's before on the RJG, but there have been some changes since our last update. For one, it appears our loving duo of Northeast Tarrant County Niki's Italian Bistro's are no longer together (aww). The website, and the menu, are very clear in stating that the NRH Niki's is no longer associated with the one in Keller. And the other big change is they have moved across Davis to a beautiful new Tuscan structure that they painstakingly built for well over a year. The strip center location that Niki's had been in, for God knows how many years, needed an update badly. The place was, quite frankly, miserable. So rather than gut the 80's style strip mall, they purchased the Catfish Tucker's Haven across the street. And subsequently bulldozed it (I'm sure it was in worse shape than the original Niki's! One can only imagine all the fried fish - and cigarette smoke - pew). And proceeded to build a very large Medieval Italian styled building. Bravo! The interior is relatively modest, and that's fine with the RJG. No need to go opulent - especially for what is in effect neighborhood Italian food. BTW, the day we went, the parking lot was packed, and yet there was still plenty of open tables. I think it will be a rare night when Niki's will have standing room only crowds.

What hasn't changed is the type of Italian food Niki's serve - which is very typical of most of the Italian restaurants in Northeast Tarrant. I've carried on about it many times before, and won't repeat myself here. Just click on the Italian label, or just read the original Niki's review, and you'll figure out what I mean. Now we had bad luck at the old NRH location, and noticed the Keller one was much better (which I suspect may have been behind the divorce). But on our one visit to the new location, everything was fine - and in wonderful surroundings to boot. They still have a full bar, with more selections than before.

Being the cheapies (and lushes) that the RJG happens to be, Niki's is usually an alternative option to the just-as-good-and-similar Italian places around that allow BYOB (Tony's, Cafe Sicilia, Joe's, Italian Bistro, etc...). But if we had guests in town, and didn't want to go overboard at Patrizio's or Brio, but wanted good, solid Italian fare, then Niki's is the perfect spot to take them.

Website
 
Niki's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cousin's Bar-B-Q ~ Fort Worth, Texas


We've written about Cousin's before, when they had a little shotgun shack over in Keller. But with Back Forty recently arriving in NRH, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the mothership. Or actually a branch of the original. They shut down the to-go only place in Keller, so that they could open this very large location in the Alliance shopping area of far north Ft. Worth. This is the second visit here for the RJG. We first went in December of 2010. So obviously we haven't done our part in helping the restaurant along. There's really no explanation as to why we've been infrequent visitors, as I've been a fan of Cousin's since we moved back to DFW 10 years ago.

Mrs. RJG had the baked potato with smoked turkey, and she loved it. I tried the turkey, and it's as good as ever. Cousin's always had the best turkey. They need to show their sibling over at Back Forty how to do it right. And speaking of sibling, since Cousin's has a similar meat selection to the start-up, I decided to focus on three items that would be smoked. In other words, I laid off the sausages, presuming them to be the same or very similar. So I had a 3 meat platter with sliced brisket, pork ribs, and quarter dark meat chicken. As you have read here, we love the chicken at Back Forty, and I don't think I ever had it at Cousin's. Well - it's nearly the same. It's really fantastic. Great seasoning and fall off the bone tenderness. The ribs were also excellent - not fatty or tough, with a very fine dry rub. And the brisket was also a winner, very flavorful. I see many critics complain about the lack of flavor, but I cannot agree with that assessment. As for the sides, the mac and cheese was way too cheesy and soupy. The upstart Back Forty kills them on that front. And the corn was fine, though a tad mushy.

Back Forty wins on the sides, but the RJG will always weight the scales for the meat. Overall edge goes to Cousin's but Back Forty is closer in proximity to us. Glad they're both here! These are our favorite barbecue places in NE Tarrant for now. We have a few more to go though...

Website

Cousins BBQ on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 19, 2013

Viet Bites ~ Denton, Texas

The RJG just returned from a 6 day vacation, which I hope to report on soon. However, while catching up on e-mails, I discovered that none other than Mr. Music had sent us a fresh review. Alright! So take it away Mr. Music....

A recent drive from the Denton library with Mrs. Music, Music Jr., and Baby Music revealed a welcome sight!  A new restaurant on S. Elm called Viet Bites!  I was just talking to Music Jr. a few days ago about how cool it would be for a real Vietnamese restaurant to come to Denton.  We couldn't wait to go!  I have to admit that it tickles me that my 8 year old daughter often asks me when we can go for spring rolls and pho! 

On Friday night we met another couple at this cute little, standalone building. It looks like it once may have been a one-off taco stand or something similar. As we walked in, we marveled at the rows of fresh Thai basil with their purple leaves and Thai chilies pointing to the sky surrounding the perimeter!


Even under the cute awning, it was too hot to enjoy the seating outside so we opted for a seat in the a/c filled dining room. A slight complaint is that the a/c wasn't working so well so it was a little warm and sticky inside, but I believe that was a temporary condition.  When I first looked around, and then saw the menu, I was a little worried. The menu looked really small and I was afraid the food might be like a wannabe version of the dishes I enjoy. I've been to places like that before.  

Much to my surprise, the menu is packed with a variety of interesting items. These guys just do a great job of streamlining.  Plus the waiter let us know there are always a few special items not on the menu.  Today they had fried calamari with a pepper seasoned batter and 'tofu fries' - strips of tofu, cut and fried. We had already ordered spring rolls, so we decided to wait to try them another time. The spring rolls came with all the right stuff: Peanut sauce, hoisen, and Sriracha! The spring rolls were good but not spectacular.   

On the menu, in the upper left corner, are the appetizers with a variety of rolls (fried and steamed), crab rangoon, lettuce wraps, and even wings in a spicy blend with fish sauce! Below that is a section with a build-your-own pho with offerings of beef (steak, meatballs, flank steak), chicken, as well as a veggie/tofu soup appropriately called 'pho-get the meat'!

Baby Music got some grilled chicken which was lovely - moist and tasty grilled strips.  Music Jr. opted for some pho w/o meat and loved it.  Mrs. Music wasn't very hungry and just picked off the kids plates. I got the jumbo combination with rare steak, meatballs and flank steak.  I got the big bowl even though our waiter warned me that it was huge - and it was!  Lots of toothsome meat and a good portion of noodles in a dark, rich broth.  In fact, I told the waiter what I want in a large bowl is lots of broth but it was just too packed with other goodies.  Thirty seconds later a large bowl of hot broth was at my side and it was good!  They boast a 6 hours process with herbs and spices to make the broth and it really shows. I do have a personal suggestion: If they added a bit more ginger to the broth, it would be perfect! The noodles were cooked 'to the tooth' as they say!

One of the highlights of the evening was the staff. Our waiter was very personable and upbeat, not to mention very attentive.  A young woman, who I believe was the owner, came out to talk with us and she was very friendly as well.

I will definitely be back!  One thing I noticed - they have Vietnamese tacos and they look great! Another reason is the rest of the menu!  The right side, as compact as it is, has a plethora of interesting options. This is the 'build your own meal' section! First, you choose a style: Bun (noodle dishes), Bahn Mi (the scrumptious sandwiches in French rolls - love that bbq pork!), or Com (rice plates).  Next you pick a protein: Lemongrass chicken, shrimp or tofu, char-grilled pork or beef. Then you can add some veggies like avocado, kim chi, cucumber, sprouts, cilantro, lettuce, herbs, and jalapeno! Finally a variety of sauces complete the dish: Citrus ginger, soy and shallot vinaigrette, sweet and sour, fish sauce dressing or peanut sauce.

Oh, and  the prices were very reasonable. I paid $7.95 for the jumbo meat combo. Ohhh, and I had one of those 'what a small world' experiences.  When I was in Southern Mississippi recently visiting some family, I had my first begneit! A begneit is basically a thick sopapilla that was invented in New Orleans (ED: Beignets were declared the official state doughnut of Louisiana in 1986). I try not to eat fried food that much, but OMG, they are delicious!  These yummy treats are a highlight of the desert menu. They also have some other interesting items like pandon and coconut cake! Did I mention I'm really looking forward to going back??  


Website

Viet Bites on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Prego Pasta House ~ Dallas, Texas

The RJG goes from our favorite Denver Italian restaurant, to our second favorite Dallas area Italian restaurant. As many of you all know, Pietro's is our favorite Italian in DFW, and remains the RJG's all-time favorite restaurant. But for close to 30 years, Prego has been right there behind them, providing hearty competition. And like Pietro's, we're infrequent visitors to Dallas anymore, so it's a rare treat indeed when we do dine here. We may have been only a couple of times since I started this blog, so this week's visit gave us the opportunity to finally blog about it. One major difference between Pietro's and Prego, is that the latter is open for lunch. And it's just that opening that allows me to choose Prego when in the area at that time. Mrs. RJG and I were in Dallas for an emergency weekday errand, and we had a bit of downtime right around lunch. Of course we first had to visit Northpark (guess who was behind that decision?) - and then I took control of lunch. 5 minutes later we're at Prego.

According to Prego's website, the restaurant has been open since 1982 (with a building owned by the family since 1951). And that's roughly two years before we started frequenting. I was in college at Texas Tech then, which tells me that we must've first dine there while home for the summer. If truth be told, both my parents liked Prego probably more than any restaurant - including my beloved Pietro's. For a number of years, they had a new location up in Far North Dallas (Tollway and Trinity Mills) that just happened to be pretty close to where I had an office in 2003 and 2004. They had great lunch specials, and I tried to go at least once a month, if not more. Unfortunately that location closed a few years ago. But the original is where most of my dining memories of Prego occurred. It's a single room restaurant, that can get very loud when crowded (which it often is - particularly for dinner). It's hard to imagine today, but Prego, like every restaurant of the time, allowed smoking. And my Old Man made sure everyone got cigarette smoke with their dinner. Not every law the government passes is a turkey. They got that one right! As an aside, valet parking is compulsory (it's free - but with tip of course). I noticed on this visit, they tore down the building next door. Maybe they can finally get their own parking spaces?

So what's so great about Prego? Old school Italian. Done perfectly - every time. If you like a thick and smooth red sauce, with the perfect blend of seasonings, then you'll love Prego. They make their own Italian sausage. Their salad is basic but delicious (a vinaigrette with garlic and onion tops, an olive and hot pepper). Pasta is always al dente. Meat sauce is made from their homemade meatballs. Their pizza will remind you of Campisi's. I'm not a heavy cream sauce guy, but I'll bet their Alfredo is delicious. Italian food doesn't have to be fancy to be good. It's amazing to me how very few really good Italian restaurants there are. Most of the simple restaurants use too much sauce, or can't even cook pasta right. The elaborate ones are so focused on decoration and off-the-wall recipes, they can't get even put together a decent salad. Prego reminds me of everything I like about old school Italian. It's a can't miss proposition. Prego, as mention earlier, is usually very crowded for dinner. And who eats there? Lots of squeaky clean, good looking families from nearby University Park. Regular folks, but regular folks who have way more money to blow than the rest of us. And know a good value when they experience it. As for the RJG - I've been going for 30 years now, and I still look forward to dining here. If any of the above sounds appealing, then Prego is a must.

Website

Prego Pasta House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mama Louise ~ Aurora, Colorado

Continuing with our favorite Denver area restaurants, here is our go-to Italian place. We first started going to Mama Louise not long after they opened in the DTC (Arapahoe and Dayton) around 1998 or so. (Prior to that there was a burrito place - I believe it was called "Jalapeno's" that we had eaten at a couple of times). After about a year of infrequently visiting, Mrs. RJG and I became regulars. Rarely would a week go by where we wouldn't venture up from Parker for a dinner. Usually on Friday night. Even on snow nights, we would go. Not long after we relocated back to DFW, owner Kent moved his establishment east to the Piney Creek area of Aurora. I can remember going to the original DTC location as recent as 2004 on a visit, so this must have happened shortly thereafter. The new location is a wonderfully decorated restaurant. Kent has been there since day one, and he's always pleasant and glad to see you. For years, his Mom would be by his side ensuring all was running smoothly. Apparently she had knee surgery not long ago, and is now traveling the world. So you won't see her anymore! :-) The family originally had a restaurant in Highland as far back as 1978 (I can't remember the name - but I don't think it was Mama Louise) and closed down. Kent is the son of the founder and restarted the tradition in 1997/8, as stated above.

I can only use the term "best" or "favorite" in relation to the places I've frequented. But what makes it so special for the RJG? Because they have the best chicken parm I've ever had. Anywhere. In the world. I like my parm crispy, and that's what you get at Mama Louise, along with an incredible seasoning mixture unlike anything I've ever had. Make sure you ask for Louise Sauce with your pasta. It's a spicy concoction made up of spicy Italian sausage, ground beef, and tomato sauce. It's extremely flavorful and comes with a nice kick. Each meal starts with a minestrone soup, which I quite like, though it's not a traditional recipe (it's more like a noodle soup with celery). This is followed by a cold iceberg lettuce salad, that is pleasantly simple with an excellent homemade Italian dressing. And they have fine desserts as well. And a decent wine list. This is also Mrs. RJG's favorite, and in a rare case of solidarity when it comes to food selection, she also loves the chicken parm. Excellent all around.

Like El Tepehuan, Mama Louise is a place I want to go every time I set foot in Denver. It's not always possible to eat at all our favorites each time, but Mama Louise rarely gets skipped.

Website
 
Mama Louise Italian on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Potbelly Sandwich Shop ~ Hurst, Texas


I was beginning to wonder if Potbelly would ever come to Northeast Tarrant. It seemed the chain was avoiding the area like the plague. They've been in DFW for quite some time, and as you can see above, I've been to the Las Colinas location. That was in 2006 when I had an office nearby working for another company. The situation was becoming almost comical. About once a year, I'd go to their website and click on a map for DFW locations. Dots everywhere, except a huge gap of nothingness West and NW of DFW airport. When I was a kid, we had a cat. A cat that disliked my Dad. So every time he would reach from his easy chair to pet it, the cat would take a wide swath around his chair just to avoid him. It seemed Potbelly's was doing that to us.

But they finally made it here. They're in an area of Hurst that is basically being rebuilt around the construction of 183/121 at Precinct Line Rd. Across the highway is In-N-Out Burger that we've written about. The city of Hurst must be laying out the incentives, as many new chains are coming to the area, including an Outback, Pei Wei, and a newly rebuilt Starbucks, amongst others.

Anyway, was it worth the constant tracking for our own store? Yes. Yes, it was. I love their sandwiches. Potbelly started in 1977 in Chicago, but didn't branch out until about 1996. I first heard of them while walking through Midway Airport many years ago. They're sort of a cross between a traditional East Coast sub shop, a Chicago styled grinder house, and Quizno's. The bread is delicious, and they use the conveyor belt setup to heat their sandwiches. And their prices aren't bad for this day and age. I went with the Italian on this visit, and Mrs. RJG had the chicken salad sandwich. They were executed to perfection.

If you've never tried one, and you live nearby, give them a shot. We'll be regulars for certain. Now that they're here, that is...

Website

Potbelly Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill ~ Colleyville, Texas


We were reviewing new restaurants in the area, when I saw that they planned on opening a new Costa Vida in Fort Worth. I had totally forgotten about this place, and that reminded me of the one in Colleyville, which is closer than the new one will be to us. Surprisingly this is our first visit here.

Costa Vida is a chain from Utah (Lehi - in the row of towns between Provo and Salt Lake City) that originally came up during the burrito craze of the last couple of decades as lead by Chipotle, Baja Fresh, and Qdoba's. Other than a proliferation of stores throughout the Beehive State, you will find a smattering of Costa Vida's in most of the West and Southwest states.

I zoomed in on the Baja Bowl, which is their variation of the Naked Burrito or Burrito Bowl, and filled it with grilled chicken, pinto beans, rice, red enchilada sauce, and cheese. Now the distinguishing characteristic of Costa Vida is they then push the bowl through the heated conveyor belt (like Quizno's) for a nicely toasted dish with melted cheese. On the back end they'll toss on top lettuce, pico, and a salsa of your choice (in this case I grabbed a container of the honey habanero). Mrs. RJG did similar but she asked for half grilled chicken and half sweet pork, which is their signature dish. I also had a frozen margarita, because it's that time of year, right?

We both were satisfied. Their grilled chicken is slightly better than Chipotle's, and I've always been a fan of Chipotle's chicken. The toasting concept is fantastic, as the melted yellow cheese is excellent in this setting. The rice is also a major winner, besting the other chains. The beans are... well, beans. They're fine. On the downside, the sweet pork was indeed sweet. Too sweet, and too greasy according to the Missus. The honey habanero, while packing a little bit of heat, was also too sweet, and definitely pales compared to better salsas found at the three chains mentioned in the prologue. I need to try their other salsa next time. And finally, while on the topic of sweet, the margarita was more like a sugar Kool-Aid. So it's obvious the chain has a bit of a sweet tooth, which doesn't quite appeal to us.

Will we be back? Oh definitely. In total, an excellent experience. And we want to try their tacos, quesadillas, and maybe even the enchiladas. And I'll grab a beer next time. A good place for sure. I can't believe it took us this long to try it.

Website

Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 5, 2013

El Tep (El Tepehuan) ~ Englewood, Colorado

June 28, 2015: Quick note. I was here back in April, and apparently they are moving to the end of the strip, in what used to be a Vietnamese restaurant. This may have already happened, I'm not sure. They also will change their name to El Tep (we like The Teep better). I'll probably be back in October and will report more then.


This is one of the few places, from before this blog anyway, that I can recite the exact first date I visited. It was October 16, 1995. It was a late afternoon on a Monday, when the secretary (err, Executive Assistant) of our department was scurrying about trying to unload a free football ticket for the Broncos game that night. It was for only one seat. And there was probably only one loser in the whole office who would have had nothing better to do that night, and who was unmarried or unattached. Yea... me. About 15 minutes later, coincidentally, I was introduced to our new SAP "basis" lead, who had just relocated his family to Denver from Cincinnati (I was the Oracle DBA on the project at that time). That gentleman we will identify for this blog as the Spamlamb, who became a lifelong friend that I still talk with frequently to this day. So I mentioned to him that I was going to the game. Spamlamb said that he was going as well, with his brother and sister-in-law. He asked if I wanted to tag along. That was a no brainer - I didn't have to worry about parking if nothing else. Then he says to me: "We're going to The Teep before the game - you been?". "No, what's that?" And the rest is history as they say. BTW, Denver crushed Oakland 27-0 (this was when Oakland was still reliably good). It was at the old Mile High Stadium. Man, that place went nuts that night.

Spamlamb's older brother had lived in Denver for many years, and this was their go-to spot for Mexican.  Spamlamb himself had taken a shine to it on his frequent trips to Denver. As you can see in the photo above, this was an old diner that sat on one of those "old town" type streets (which is exactly how one could describe the scene on Broadway in old Englewood). And there's almost no parking out front (there's plenty in the back). In those days, El Tepehuan was a dump, with old restaurant furniture and poor lighting. As is the case with the RJG now, those things didn't bother me then either. I dipped the chip into the "hot sauce", placed it in my mouth, and I knew I'd be a regular at "The Teep" forever. To this day, I would argue that El Tepehuan's salsa is one of the best, if not the best salsa one can get at a restaurant. It's very spicy with a unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else. This "unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else" is actually the storyline of El Tepehuan in general. It doesn't taste like Mexican food I've had anywhere else in Denver, or DFW, or the USA, or Mexico. It's one of a kind.

I don't think it's an exaggeration for me to say I've been to El Tepehuan more than 200 times since that first night in late 1995. The restaurant has definitely improved the interior with homemade carved heavy wood furniture. But other than that small facelift, the place still has the look and feel of a 1960s breakfast diner. And the food quality is pretty much the same now as it was then. Maybe even better. Every time I go to Denver, I want to eat here at least once. And that's precisely what I did this past May.

So what are the favorites there? The Spamlamb swears by the chile relleno - says it's one of the best of its kind (there are a couple of types of chile relleno's that he can give full dissertations on). And he's also very fond of their Huevos Rancheros, something I too can attest for.

Naturally being from Texas, I had a tendency to go for more Tex-Mex offerings at first. That's not a good idea in principle when eating Mexican in Denver. It took me awhile to find my favorite dish there, but once I did, it sold me even more than just the amazing salsa. First of all, I love their ground beef. Just a good old fashioned ground beef taco at El Tepehuan is a fantastic taste experience. But it's their chicken that steals the day. Their shredded chicken is the gold standard by which no other place can even get close too. They heavily season it, then fry it lightly to give it crispy edges and the taste of a grill that probably hasn't been replaced since 1966. Throw those bad boys into a taco and slather it with El Tepehuan's salsa, and you will go home happy. And maybe a little scared because the heat of the sauce is still on your lips.

But even better, is to get that same chicken stuffed into a burrito the size of your head, and then have it doused in their incredible green chile. Like everything else, El Tepehuan's green chile is like none other you've had. First of all it's not spicy (What? The RJG likes something that isn't spicy?). But the flavors are incredible. I do know they use bay leaves, which isn't in your typical recipe. So: Chips and salsa, one big fat chicken burrito buried in green chile, washed down with a cheap Mexican lager. I'm presuming this is what heaven is going to be like. It better be. :-)

This is one of the RJG's favorite restaurants on the planet (and Mrs. RJG loves it as well). It was a deep secret in the 90s. Word's gotten out over the years, but it's still a "local find". The place is always crowded - whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But it's never packed. There's always one or two empty tables awaiting you. Look at that Urbanspoon rating with over 100 votes. Need I say more?

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El Tepehuan on Urbanspoon

Denver area RJG reviews


One of the things that has been gnawing at me for some time regarding this blog has been my total negligence on reporting on places outside of DFW. I managed to get in the Lubbock trip lately, but that's about it. Now part of the reason is the lack of regular visits to a particular restaurant. Or perhaps more to the point: My inability to return. I'm a bit uncomfortable making strong recommendations on places that I've been to once, or that it's likely to be only once for many years. While I would try to refrain from negative reviews, even a positive one can be misleading. What if I just got lucky that one day? However, while that might explain away a lot of my traveling experiences, I cannot use that excuse for Denver.

Quick history of my past with Colorado. I moved to Colorado Springs (from Carrollton) in late November 1993 for a new job. Even though I'd never even traveled to the state at that time, I moved site unseen. I knew it was going to be awesome, and it was (is). In April of 1995, I changed jobs again and relocated to Denver. It was there I met Mrs. RJG and we were married in 1997. By May of 1998, we bought our first house in The Pinery which is south of Parker. And in January of 2003 we relocated back to DFW, but this time to Northeast Tarrant rather than the Dallas side. But that didn't end our Denver story. Since Mrs. RJG still has family there, and I still had business and friends there, we continued to return annually, sometimes a few times in a year. Then in 2009 we picked up a summer townhome in southeast Denver and spent 4 to 5 of the summer months there through 2011. For whatever reason, I never could get motivated to write on this blog while we were there. Anyway, we decided in early 2012 to sell the townhome, and now we're back to occasional visits. And it is my intention to at least visit Denver once a year if at all possible (if not more). I recently was there in May (sans Mrs. RJG) for personal business.

There's still plenty of places for us to report on here in DFW, but on those many days when I have nothing new to add, and if I have a bit of free time to reminisce about Denver, I will try to pepper a few in. I will mainly cover off on places I've been for many years. But I do have one I discovered on my last visit this past May that I want to write about.

I've created a new Label called Denver Metro, which also includes the few places I wrote about in 2009 and 2010. On my last visit in May, I did stop by the venerable Brewery Bar, which I've updated as well.