Brunch at Oakland’s Portal Restaurant

The "Corned Beer and Hash" Two eggs any style, $12

After running the Hot Chocolate 15k in and around the famous Golden Gate Park, my wife and I decided to leave confines of San Francisco and find a brunch spot that rivals those found in the growing exclusiveness of San Francisco without the 1+ hour wait.  After a lengthy Google search, we discovered Portal in Oakland, shortly off the Lake Merritt BART station.  And we were glad that we did!

Portal Restaurant
1611 2nd Ave
Oakland, CA 94606

 

There wasn’t a lot of parking right around there, but there’s a Lucky store nearby that has a large parking lot, in addition to street parking off of East 18th.

The Portal Restaurant

The Portal Restaurant

Although the restaurant isn’t very large, the menu is quite expansive, capturing all of the sweet or savory taste buds that command you culinary decisions.  Take a look at the brunch menu below, I challenge you to find something that you won’t want to eat or drink….especially with bottomless mimosas and an expansive beer selection.

The Portal Restaurant Menu

The Portal Restaurant Menu

The view of Lake Merritt from the back patio

The view of Lake Merritt from the back patio

Looking back towards the restaurant on the back patio.

Looking back towards the restaurant on the back patio.

The Iron Springs Casey Jones Imperial IPA and Portal Restaurant Menu

The Iron Springs Casey Jones Imperial IPA $6 and Portal Restaurant Menu

The "Corned Beer and Hash" Two eggs any style, $12

The “Corned Beer and Hash” Two eggs any style, $12. Washed down with a Fieldwork Moraine Brett IPA $8.

"The Cowboy" two eggs (Any Style) over grilled polenta, drenched in tomato chili sauce $11

“The Cowboy” two eggs (Any Style) over grilled polenta, drenched in tomato chili sauce $11 with a side of bottomless mimosas $18.

From the great beer selection, like the Iron Springs Brewery Casey Jones Imperial IPA to the salty, beefy goodness of the Corned Beef.  All paths lead to a fantastic brunch.  So kick the concern about your calorie and sodium intake and indulge. After all, you only live once.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B
  • Service =  A+
  • Food = A+

A Night Out in London’s West End

The bar at The Porthouse

The West End of London is comparable to New York’s Broadway, filled with world class theaters hosting the latest plays and musicals and an array of restaurants and bars covering all culinary and liquid preferences.  A night out in the West End is always a memorable experience, one that should be on your short list of things to do if in London.

While on a weekend getaway in London back in July, 2011, there was one play that I had to see, Love Never Dies.  A new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera that could only be seen in London at the time.  So, we made an evening of it.

Looking for a a nice dinner near the theaters, we made reservations at the historic Savoy Grill located in the world famous Savoy Hotel.  This is a Gordon Ramsay Group restaurant, not as prestigious as his three Michelin-stars Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, but a convenient fine dining alternative that serves amazingly delicious, high quality steaks and seafood.

Savoy Grill
Savoy Hotel
Strand, London WC2R 0EU

 

We indulged in a smooth bottle of 2005 Chateau Noaillac Medoc Bordeaux wine and the Chateaubriand for two, cooked rare.  Didn’t even need a knife for that blood free, beefy morsel of deliciousness.  To this day, the best steak I have ever had.

Our Bordeaux Wine, 2005 Chateau Noaillac Medoc

Our Bordeaux Wine, 2005 Chateau Noaillac Medoc

 

Our amazing Chateaubriand for two, 22oz of delicious, perfectly cooked beef.

Our amazing Chateaubriand for two, 22oz of delicious, perfectly cooked beef.

 

Then onto our play, Love Never Dies, at the Adelphi Theatre.  After a short walk down Strand, we were at the theatre and promptly seated.  The play was good, but not near as good as Phantom.  Reading reviews, I wasn’t alone with this takeaway.  As it turns out, the play evolved while showing in London at the Adelphi, tweaked a little here and there to improve it and bring it together more.  Having seen the changes in their Melbourne production, I can say that it is better now.  The music though was always very good.

Adelphi Theatre
409-412 Strand, London WC2R 0NS

 

With the enjoyable play over, we headed out the side door of the Adelphi Theatre and straight into The Porterhouse bar next door that we conveniently stumbled upon.  Ironically we frequented the Dublin Porterhouse when we were there last, so it was reminiscent of that trip when we walked in.  Other than the name though, that was the only similarity.  The beer selection was far more limited at this location.  Being the weekend, the place was packed with people enjoying the music and cold beverages.  Service wasn’t great, but that’s to be expected in London.  It did have a pretty good beer selection though, so I wasn’t complaining.

The Porterhouse
21-22 Maiden Ln, London WC2E 7NA

The bar at The Porthouse

The bar at The Porterhouse

A great end to a wonderful evening

A great end to a wonderful evening

London is one of my favorite places to visit and enjoying its West End is part of the reason why I love it so.  There are a ton of fantastic shows to see, restaurants to feast at and bars to wet your palette there.  So, you can’t go wrong with any of the options there.  This just happened to be my amazing evening out in London’s West End.

Dinner at Blacklock in London, England

Blacklock
24 Great Windmill St,
Soho, London W1D 7LG

After shooting some sunset pictures over the historical Parliament building, I wanted to eat at a nice, nearby restaurant.  Doing a quick Google search, I found the chop house Blacklock hidden away on Great Windmill Street.

At first I couldn’t find it, I walked down the street, hit the cross road Brewer Street and turned around only to unknowingly pass it again.  After asking for directions from teh nearby security guard, I eventually found it hidden away underneath the structure above.

Into the restaurant we go! The small, hidden door off of Great Windmill St.

View of the kitchen from downstairs inside of the restaurant.

View of the tables from downstairs inside of the restaurant.

 

Dinner, a little green and a lot of meat. All washed down with a local beer.

Pork belly anyone, yes please!

 

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A
  • Service =  C+
  • Food = A

“Husk”, Great Dining in Charleston, SC

Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC
Husk Restaurant
76 Queen Street
Charleston, SC 29401
 

 

While visiting my family in Columbia, South Carolina, we decided to take a one night field trip to Charleston.  Knowing that I was going there, my brother recommended the restaurant Husk, which won 2011 Best New Restaurant in America from Bon Appetit magazine and 2011 Best New Restaurant in the South from Southern Living magazine.  The restaurant is the creation of award winning Chef Sean Brock and owned and operated by the Neighborhood Dining Group (NDG).

Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC

Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC

What makes this restaurant unique is how it brands itself on using fresh, local ingredients to create extraordinary southern inspired recipes.  With a menu that is updated daily depending upon the local ingredients available, this centrally located Charleston restaurant provides an ever changing, casual culinary experience.

 

Servers Picking up the Culinary Delights from the Kitchen

Servers Picking up the Culinary Delights from the Kitchen

We made reservations for lunch and what a lunch it was!  I love to eat, especially fresh, flavorful, balanced creations that are part experience and part sustenance.  The menu for the day had numerous delightful gems as shown below.  Asking our server for recommendations, she advised us on the burger, shrimp and grits and the heritage pork.  In addition to the food, Husk had an extensive wine, beer and soda list as well.  Unfortunately they were out of the North Carolina Cheerwine, so I had to settle on Abita Root Beer instead.   Bring on the glutenous feast of southern culinary delight!

The Lunch Menu from July 21st, 2014.  The following sides were not included in the scan above: - Carolina Gold Rice with Sea Island Red Peas, Smoky Tomatoes - Grilled Courgettes with Tropea Onions and Sweet Cord

The Lunch Menu from July 21st, 2014.
The following sides were not included in the scan above:
– Carolina Gold Rice with Sea Island Red Peas, Smoky Tomatoes
– Grilled Courgettes with Tropea Onions and Sweet Cord

Abita Root Beer

Abita Root Beer

 

Grilled House Made Cheddar Summer Sausage with House Made Pickles and Mustard

Grilled House Made Cheddar Summer Sausage with House Made Pickles and Mustard

The sausage had an amazing smoked flavor from the grill.  The cheddar was subtle, but added just the little bit extra to the smoked sausage.  The pickles, mustard and toasted bread really rounded out the appetizer by diversifying the taste and texture.

Shrimp and Geechie Boy Grits, Smoky Tomatoes and Charred Onion, Sweet Peas and Surry Sausage

Shrimp and Geechie Boy Grits, Smoky Tomatoes and Charred Onion, Sweet Peas and Surry Sausage

Absolutely amazing.  Wow did those ingredients just fit together perfectly, creating amazing convolution of texture and taste again.  The gravy wasn’t too heavy, with minor flavor so you can still taste all of the other ingredients in this bowl of foodie heaven.

The Husk Cheeseburger with Fried Potato Wedges – Photo Courtesy of www.huskrestaurant.com

Not sure what sauce is on this, but it was really an amazing burger.

Fried Chicken Po'Boy with Kentucky Black Pepper Bacon, Home Made Pickles and Red Onion, Spicy Mayo (which was pretty spicy)

Fried Chicken Po’Boy with Kentucky Black Pepper Bacon, Home Made Pickles and Red Onion, Spicy Mayo (which was pretty spicy)

The chicken was good, but nothing special.  However, the bacon, what a great enhancement to this typically boring sandwich.  The mayo was rather spicy, but really good compliment to the meats.

Virginia Heritage Pork with Fried Cabbage, Smoky Butterbeans and Sea Island Red Peas, Pot Likker.  The pork was slow cooked for 12+ hours, pulled apart and then wrapped around the stomach and cooked again.  A slow cooked fatty goodness!

Virginia Heritage Pork with Fried Cabbage, Smoky Butterbeans and Sea Island Red Peas, Pot Likker.

The pork was slow cooked for 12+ hours, pulled apart and then wrapped around the stomach and cooked again. A slow cooked fatty goodness!  Really tasty and again, another great example of the quiet dance of textures and taste among the ingredients.

A side of a Skillet of Cornbread with Allan Benton's Tennessee Bacon

A side of a Skillet of Cornbread with Allan Benton’s Tennessee Bacon

Located off of Queen Street in downtown Charleston, Husk resides in an old Victorian house.  Supporting both floors for seating, the restaurant can support a decent amount of diners.  If you didn’t make a reservation and you do have to wait, the rocking benches on the porch are really clever and make waiting for a table a bit more enjoyable.

Outside Husk on Queen Street

Outside Husk on Queen Street

 

The paper menu printed each day each meal

The paper menu printed each day each meal

Some of the decorations located on the lower floor dining room

Some of the decorations located on the lower floor dining room

 

The dining room on the lower floor of Husk

The dining room on the lower floor of Husk

 

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A   (Well decorated, decent size, clean, bright, and a parking garage across the street.  The bathroom on the lower floor is a single unisex bathroom, so could be an issue if more than one person needs to use it)
  • Service =  A-
  • Food = A+    (really amazing shrimp and grits, the pork was fatty heaven, the burger had some magical sauce on it that was to die for, but the corn bread was a little dry though)

Mobile Barbeque in the Miami Wynwood Art District

Ribs cooking on the grill

It isn’t everyday that you find good barbeque parked on a side street in an empty part of town.  But on this beautiful Sunday, we stumbled upon proprietor and grill master, Mark Gibson’s BBQ-2-Go mobile barbeque establishment in Miami Florida’s well known Wynwood Art District southeast of I-95 and I-195.

We had been driving around Wynwood for a couple hours , taking pictures of the amazingly colorful and artistic graffiti, when we turned down NW 2nd Avenue and saw a black cage of a trailer that was transmitting smoke infused with sweet carnivorous barbeque smells.  Having already eaten a few hours earlier, eating again wasn’t terribly high on our to-do list.  But, how can you pass up a barbeque stand that you fortuitously stumbled upon in the most unexpected of places?!

So, we pulled over and parked next to The Beetles ‘Abby Road’ mural across the street from Mark’s BBQ-2-Go stand.  We walked up and Mark was socializing with a lovely lady he knew sitting out front under the thoughtful canvas overhang.  After introducing himself, we got right to the ever important discussion about what smokey meaty morsels he has ready to eat.  Mark responded with “I have chicken, pork and ribs shortly.”

Portrait of the BBQ-2-Go proprietor and grill master, Mark Gibson.

The scrumptious meats on the barbeque pit.

Possessing an affinity for pulled pork sandwiches, we elected for pork.  Mark removed a large meaty morsel from under the foil and began chopping it up with his cleaver from the Dexter television show.  He then proceeded to give us a paper bowl, opened the bun up and dumped his surgically chopped pork on top.  We were then faced with the crossroads of selecting which of Mark’s homemade barbeque sauces to complement this pork sandwich.  Posing this quandary to Mark, he quickly responded with “Have the Gangsta Gold.”  Yes, that is correct, Gangsta Gold.  What a fantastic name and tasty mustard based sauce.  It had a sweet, tangy and mild mustard taste to it.

Pulled pork barbeque sandwich covered in “gangsta gold” barbeque sauce.

The seasoned and sauced up ribs cooking on the grill.

Really fantastic.  The pork was tender, not too dry.  Really well done.  Unfortunately we didn’t try any of his other barbeque creations, but the sample that we did have was very well done.  So, if you see a smoking mobile barbeque stand around Miami, Florida and you aren’t vegetarian, stop by and try it out.

After visiting Mark Gibson’s BBQ-2-Go mobile stand, my nephew indulged in the pulled pork sandwich with its “gangsta gold” sauce.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A+   (outside, shady tarp, convenient location)
  • Service =  A+    (lively personality who has pride in his food)
  • Food = A    (only tried the pork and sauce, but both were great)

Park’s Barbeque – Los Angeles, California, United States

Park's Gal-bi

When I am in Los Angeles, California for work, I always try to visit Park’s Barbeque to clog my arteries with their perfectly marinated, tender and fresh Korean barbeque meats.  It’s not a Travel Channel stop by Adam Richman or Anthony Bourdain, but it is an establishment that my colleague thankfully introduced me to and definitely worth a detour to this famous restaurant.  And I do mean famous.  As you walk in, you are greeted on the right with a wall full of celebrity photos.  You have famous Asian sports stars, Olympians (Apolo Anton Ohno) and actors (extremely beautiful Jessica Alba for example).  And how can we leave out an Executive for World of Warcraft who also made the wall of fame?  Yes, all types, sizes and trades have tread their feet through those fish protected doors.  You can find this local, famous establishment at the following address in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

S Vermont Ave # D
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1717

So how about that atmosphere, service and food shall we?

Outside Park’s Korean BBQ restaurant. They always have some nice cars parked out front and have valet parking should you go. I recommend parking on the side streets as it’s free.

Walking in, you enter a small corridor of an entry with the restaurant on the left behind a 5foot half wall and 100 or so photos on the right of the famous personalities who dined at this place.  The restaurant is located in a strip mall and spans two floors.  There’s valet out front, which you’ll have to do if you want to park in the front of the restaurant.  You might have to compete with the expensive sports cars typically parked there though.  You can find parking on the side streets instead, so take advantage of those free spots.  Downstairs is nicer than upstairs (and from my experience you get better service).  But, the restaurant is clean, busy and has great BBQ tables for cooking up those meaty morsels.

This is the view of the main floor right when you come into the restaurant and are greeted by the hostess.

Service is usually very good, with the servers/cooks conscientious to your food and needs.  They are quick to bring out the included Korean side dishes and your main courses.  Usually the servers are all very attentive and take turns throwing your food on the barbeque, cutting it up, flipping the meat and adding the vegetables.  However, during our last trip (which happened to be Valentine’s Day) we had horrible service at our table upstairs.  We usually sit downstairs and have always had great service, so I don’t know if it was the result of being busy, the upstairs service or some other vendetta against us.  But, our water was never filled, food was left to burn and I had to ask for our check instead of them bringing it when we were clearly done for quite some time.  Really disappointing for this type of restaurant.  Again, the service is usually much better, but this did leave a terrible taste in our mouths for sure.  I did not return on that trip, although I am sure I will sometime in the future to give it one more shot.

If not familiar with Korean food, the menu can be a bit daunting.  Thankfully I was introduced to the place by someone much more familiar with Korean barbeques.  Once you get there and sit down, you are greeted by the complimentary spread of various Korean side dishes such as numerous kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

These are the free Korean side dishes you receive prior to your succulent meat gorgefest. They get you started with various kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

Once you get past the party in your mouth Korean side dishes, it’s onto the main courses.  They don’t hesitate to start delivering these in a well oiled assembly line fashion.  Without much delay, the raw beef entrees, Seafood Pancake and Kimchi Stew and sticky rice come out.  The pancake is like a thin, dense (you can use chopsticks to pick up the pieces) seafood frittata filled with rock shrimp, green onions, and asparagus that you dip in a mild soy sauce.  Then the scrumptious Kimchi Stew, full of spicy kimchi seasoning, beef and pork part and cabbage that you scoop over your sticky rice and indulge.

These lovely morsels are the Kimchi Stew on the left, Bulgogi (Seasoned Sliced Beef) top right and Pancake with rock shrimp and green onion on the bottom center.

Then there’s the beef.  Yes, those wonderful marbleized bovine morsels that are flown in daily for as fresh as you can get.  Our staples tend to be the Bulgogi and Gal-Bi.  Bulgogi shown above, is a delicious thinly sliced sirloin/prime cut beef that is marinated to perfection.  Served with some grilled garlic, scallions and enokitake mushroom, quite a delightful combination.  Unless they get fried like our last visit when they neglected our table.  Note, you can grab the utensils yourself and flip them if Park’s employees are attentive to it.  Oh those lovely marinated prime beef short ribs, Gal-Bi (aka Galbi).  Short ribs tend to be tough and difficult to come out tender, but Park’s has it down perfectly.  They thinly cut the spare ribs around the bone so the chef can just unroll the meat on the grill.  In addition, the meat is scored so that the marinade just gets sucked into the meat.  They grill them unrolled for a little while before getting the good o’l kitchen scissors and cut up the meat.  The part of the meat closest to the bone is the toughest though, so focus on the other tender chopstick size pieces first.

This is the scrumptious Bulgogi (marinated sliced sirloin/prime beef).

 

These short ribs (Gal-Bi) are full of flavor, tender and oh so good!

I have also had the fish and special pork belly.  The fish was just alright.  The pork belly was good, but just thick bacon really.  I would stick with the beef.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B+   (limited parking, love the famous photos, clean grills, in a strip mall)
  • Service =  C    (normally a B-A grade, but horrible the last time)
  • Food = A    (really fantastic beef, stew, pancake, side dishes and good other entrees)

Kihei Caffe – Maui, HI, United States

Loco Moco

If you are in Maui and looking for a great local establishment for a fantastic, homemade style breakfast, check out Kihei Caffe in Kihei across from the Kalama Beach Park 30 minutes from Kahului Airport (OGG).  We go every time we visit Maui.  Just make sure you bring cash as they do not take credit cards.  There is an ATM in the gas station next to it though just in case I found out.  Open Daily from 5:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Kihei Caffe
1945 South Kihei Road
Kihei, HI 96753
(808) 879-2230

Onto the atmosphere, service and food.

This local establishment has a lot of charm and character.  You can’t beat sitting outside, enjoying some rich coffee, fresh muffins and looking over at Kalama Beach park and the Pacific Ocean with the trade winds blowing in your face.  Awesome.  The atmosphere has a great local, upbeat vibe.  When you eat there, you feel like you found a gem of a restaurant that is all your own.  There is ample parking around the restaurant as well.

The outside of Kihei Caffe

When you walk in, you are greeted by the friendly folks behind the counter.  We had a very nice gentleman take our order and talk us through the specials, muffins and that you need to use cash.  Which we didn’t have.  But, not to hold the line up, this trustworthy gentleman was nice enough to still let us order while they sat my wife and daughter down and I ran to the gas station to get cash to pay for it.  Ordering is done inside first before you sit down as you can’t hold tables.  I recommend getting there early or being patient if you want a seat.

The Kihei Caffe warning sign

Ahh the food.  Can’t go wrong with their splendid breakfast options.  You’ve got healthy choices like Papaya Delight, fruit salad and Biersch Mueslix.  Then there’s the chorizo and eggs, steak and eggs, sausage gravy and biscuits, breakfast burrito, french toast, waffles and pancakes (blueberry, macadamia nut, banana, pineapple), pork fried rice and eggs and of course the Loco Moco (two eggs, fresh ground beef patty, rice and brown gravy).  And you can’t forget about the homemade cinnamon rolls and muffins.  Everything that we had was really fantastic, full of flavor and holy crap was it filling!  I skipped lunch that day.

Breakfast Burrito from Kihei Caffe

Banana Macadamia Nut French Toast

Loco Moco from Kihei Caffe

Homemade blueberry muffin from Kihei Caffe

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A   (local, parking, great restaurant charm)
  • Service =  A+    (quick, friendly, allowed us to order without paying)
  • Food = A+    (great menu, good solid selections, tasted oh so good)

Ken’s House of Pancakes – Hilo, HI, United States

Ken's House of Pancakes

I had some time to kill before flying out of Hilo International Airport (ITO) and wanted to find a good local place to eat.  Taking advantage of my smartphone, I performed a local restaurant search for around Hilo.  When I travel and am looking for a restaurant, I tend to base my restaurant selection by the number of review stars on Google and of course, the style of restaurant that I am in the mood for.  Lo and behold, Ken’s House of Pancakes popped up with a respectable 4 stars.  Doing a quick search, this acclaimed diner seemed to fit my bill perfectly.  So I headed to Ken’s.

Ken’s House of Pancakes
1730 Kamehameha Ave.
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-8711

Ken's House of Pancakes

Ken’s was started in 1971 and has since received Reader’s Choice Awards for “Best Breakfast on the Big Island”, 14 years in a row, and “The Best Diner on the Big Island”.  So naturally I had to try their breakfast grub on my visit.  Onto the atmosphere, service and food…

Being a diner, the atmosphere is well, a diner.  Walking into the restaurant you are welcomed by the bright diner interior, large diner bar and many busy tables.  This place is busy, so get there early.  The good thing is, being a diner they can flip the tables fast so they keep customers moving through.  I lucked out as I was traveling alone and was able to snag an empty stool at the bar.  It’s worth noting that parking is very limited.  There are a good deal of spots out front, but not near enough for all of the customers.  Not to mention since the restaurant is on the corner of a busy intersection, getting in and out of the parking lot can be a pain.  Especially if you are like me and missed the restaurant as I couldn’t get over and make the turn in time off Kamehameha Ave.  I ended up parking behind Ken’s in the medium size business building just off Kanoelehua Ave.  It was quite and had a good deal of empty spots and just a short walk on the sidewalk down Kanoelehua Ave. to get to Ken’s.

Ken's House of Pancakes Restaurant

The service was great.  The waitress behind the bar was friendly, fast and kept my coffee full.  No complaints.

What a large menu!  I have to say, I like options but I felt like I could be there all day trying to decide what to order.  I was traveling by myself and couldn’t narrow my choices to just one from the menu.  Being a ‘House of Pancakes’, I had to try their pancakes.  And since I was just down from Mauna Loa, they had to be Macadamia Nut.  These buttermilk beauties were quite heavenly I got to say.  Especially when you combine these fluffy morsels with their kokonut, passion and guava flavored syrups.  To balance it out, I had to get some egg meal as well.  Alas, I settled on the very Hawaiian, and ‘Original’, Loco Moco.  How can you go wrong with 2 scoops of rice, 5oz lean beef patty, brown gravy and 2 over easy eggs?  Gravy was tasty and had good thickness.  Rice was the yummy sticky rice.  The beef was a bit dry, but hey, it’s a diner.  Other items that looked divine were their other Moco’s with Spam, pulled pork, chili, etc. and their ‘famous’ omelettes that can be filled with just about anything, like crab, Spam, Chinese sausage, shrimp, Portuguese sausage, etc.  Yes, I was a gluttonous fool.  But my belly was happy.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes

 

The 'Original' Loco Moco

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B-   (local, limited parking, diner)
  • Service =  A+    (quick, friendly, kept my coffee full)
  • Food = A+    (great menu, lots of options, big servings, and tasted oh so good)

Rosine’s – Anaheim, CA, United States

The grilled lamb chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction

This little gem of a restaurant is located off the beaten track in Anaheim, California.  Not really close to Disney or the Honda Center where the Anaheim Ducks play, one wouldn’t typically detour to the Yorba Linda, California area.  I on the other hand am here several times a year as that’s where our office is.  Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe is a must stop on each trip.

Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe
721 S Weir Canyon Rd
Suite 125
Anaheim, CA 92808
(714) 283-5141

Opened in 1995 by home trained chef Rosine Najarian, this restaurant specializes in her Syrian and Lebanese influenced home cooked food.  A splendid menu of broad, bold and rich items.  Ah the garlic, rosemary, thyme, pepper and spices!  A true party in your mouth for sure.  And then there’s the wine selection, a wide array of unique wines from around the world including the owner’s homeland of Lebanon.

Rosine’s Restaurant

Alright so let’s discuss the atmosphere, service and food….

The atmosphere is simple and quaint. A recent expansion into the building next door offers a good amount of seating and options for hosting functions.  With an open kitchen and most of the seating nearby, it provides an intimate environment for diners at this family run establishment.  It is located in a strip mall next to a Subway, with limited parking out front, but near unlimited parking behind the strip mall as it shares the parking lot with a grocery store and other stores and restaurants.  Walking in this dim lit restaurant, you are welcomed by one of their servers dressed in black where you’ll be sat at one of the small wood tables.  Usually there isn’t much of a wait, if any at all.  Typically most of the people waiting in the entrance are awaiting their to-go pickup orders.  They have a small stage in the dining area for someone to play some music.   Although that may add to the atmosphere of this culinary escape, I do enjoy the quite mood of the place when dining and having a glass of wine.

Inside Rosine’s Restaurant

Whether you eat in or order take out, the service is prompt and friendly.  They are happy to have you relax and enjoy your meal, wine or desert.  So the service is really good.  Maybe it’s because I eat alone usually, but when I go I really love their Muhammara, aka ‘Walnut Caviar’.  So I always order a side of it.  It’s happened a few times where one server will bring me the starter portion of it, which is a lot of food.  I’m not sure if it’s a nonchalant up sale or not since it’s a few bucks more, so just specify you want the side portion if you order that or any of the other yummy sides.  Still always good service though as they keep the glasses full and are timely in bringing the check.

The menu is very diverse and unique, with menu options that really do transport you to the Mediterranean.  Beginning with the starters, they have a wide selection of cold and hot starters that can suite any taste bud.  But if you aren’t alone, check out one of their cold and hot mezzeh’s for a good sample of their middle eastern tapas starters.  You have the Chilled Mezzeh containing hummus (chickpea dip, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil), tabbouleh (diced parsley salad, chopped tomato, green onion, bulgur, lemon dressing), baba ghannouj (fire-roasted eggplant dip with extra virgin olive oil), muhammara (walnuts, hot pepper paste, pomegranate molasses – my favorite), and sarma (stuffed rolled grape leaves, herbed rice, toasted onion) for $14.90.  Or the Hot Mezzeh  containing cheese böreg, meat böreg, kebbeh, and falafel for $16.90.  You also get pita bread to start, which is good, but it’s right out of the bag so nothing special.  You can see their famous rotisserie chickens in the window when you walk into the restaurant (half for $12.50).  Their chicken is very good, not too dry on the inside and full of seasonings on the outside from their proprietary rub.  Other menu items I really enjoy are the kababs, which you can get for chicken, lamb or beef.  Sometimes they can be a little overcooked though, which is easy to do when cooking kababs or if they sit too long under the heat lamp before serving, but still flavorful and divine with some garlic sauce on them.  I usually order either falafals or one of their two lamb menu options like the Grilled Lamb Chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction or the Lamb Shank with juice of red wine, garlic rosemary.  Both for $23.95.  They are very good, with the shank as my favorite.  The chops tend to be medium-well by the time I get them, so a tad overcooked from how I like them, but still very good with their complex lamb rub.  Their ratatouille is very flavorful as well, so that makes a hearty, but extremely satisfying side.  They tend to put on the side of each plate a few slices of their pickled turnips, which strong bitter, sour taste but nicely contradicts the other flavors on the plate.  Combine any of the above hearty stomach fillers with a side of their garlic sauce, you’ve got a happy belly for sure.

The grilled lamb chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction

The sides of muhammara (aka walnut caviar) on the left and their garlic sauce on the right

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B    (local, in strip mall, lots of parking, stage for a band?)  Note:  Updated on 12/30/2012 because of increased seating.
  • Service =  B+    (quick, friendly unnecessary up-sale)
  • Food = A-    (good menu, tasty food, garlic sauce, bought pita bread and little overcooked food sometimes)

 

Note:  This article was updated on 12/30/2012

 

Pike Place Chowder – Seattle, WA, United States

Chowder Bread Bowl

A trip to Seattle isn’t complete without gorging yourself on the local delicious seafood.  And what would a gluttonous Seattle seafood fest be without slurping up some of Seattle’s best chowder?  The chowder journey to us to the Mecca of chowder in Seattle, Pike Place Chowder.  There are two locations, one at Pike Place Market 1530 Post Alley Seattle, WA 98101 206-267-2537 and the other larger restaurant at Pacific Place Center 600 Pine St Seattle, WA 98101 206-838-5680.

Alright so let’s discuss the atmosphere, service and food….

Atmosphere, we went to the restaurant located at Pike Place Market.  The restaurant was small, had limited seating and located within a shopping building in a narrow alley off Pike’s Market.  The seating inside was only a few tables, seating maybe 20+ people.  There was much more seating outside though, both next to the restaurant and across the alley in the covered seating area which I would recommend if you couldn’t get any seating indoors because you’ll be dry if it’s raining.  People watching isn’t the greatest either as you are in an alley, but it does get quite a bit of traffic anyway.  It is convenient to Pike Place Market and with the outside seating, it would make a great lunch spot on a wonderful day.  It does tend to be busy, at least the restaurant off of Pike Place Market, so allocate enough time.  Dining here is hard to beat on a cool, Seattle day.

Pike Place Chowder is an award winning chowder restaurant and a must on any visitors list to Seattle, Washington. As a result, it tends to be busy especially on beautiful days like this one. So be mindful of the lunch rush and keep you eye out for seats outside or in if they are available.

The wait in line went pretty quick, but watch for seating when you can get it.  Again, there isn’t much!  Thankfully the wait gives you time to pick what you want from the scrumptious menu.  The servers where friendly and the food delivery was quick.  They have all of the chowders ready to go and an apparent endless supply of sour dough bread for the yummy bread bowls should you want your chowder in those instead of the paper cups.  Food comes quick, grab a seat and eat!  When we were leaving, we were looking for a place to drop our tray off.  A really nice lady who works there told us just to leave our stuff and that they would take care of it.  So really good service we thought, quick to get the food and they clean up after you.  Can’t argue with that.

All of the scrumptious chowders ready to serve at Pike Place Chowder near Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington.

Now onto the food.  First let me say, it’s award winning.  Their New England clam chowder has won first-place awards everywhere in the country.  Quoting their webpage, “[a]fter winning the Newport, Rhode Island “Great-Chowder-Cook-Off” for three years running, our chowder recipe earned membership in the Hall of Fame.” How can you possibly go wrong eating this flavorful, artery clogging, belly warming entree?  At the time of writing, I have been there twice and have sampled 7 different chowders and can honestly say, I loved all of them and never left hungry.  Just to tease your senses, their menu consists of their famous New England clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder, smoked salmon chowder, seafood bisque, seared scallop chowder, southwestern chicken & corn chowder and occasional specialties like seafood chili and the ‘Cascadia’ which is a fresh from the sea shell fish chowder full of fresh mussels and clams.  You can get a sampler of any 4 chowders for $10.95 which comes with a side of a few pieces of sourdough bread.  Or you can have them put it in their fresh sourdough bread bowls for $9.45 and making it a big taste of heaven.  All of their chowders are very unique in their taste and texture.  The salmon has dill and the seafood chowder has capers for instance.  The consistency of the chowders are not too thick or thin, just right.  In addition, they are all full of hearty, fresh ingredients which makes a huge difference.  You can see the chucks of salmon, clams, potatoes, chicken, etc.  Really impressive to have such a diverse, consistent and flavorful menu.

This is the award winning New England Chowder at Pike Place Chowder in Seattle, Washington. You can see the large morsals of clams and potatoes within their perfect consistency of this chowders cream base. Then put that in their fresh sourdough bowls, man do you have a big taste of heaven. It's tough to beat on a cool afternoon in Seattle.

Since I couldn't make up my mind, I got the sampler of their chowders. And am I glad that I did! This smorgasbord of big flavor contains the Smoked Salmon Chowder (top left), Seafood Chowder (top right), Manhattan (bottom right) and Seared Scallop (bottom left). All are surprisingly very unique and so big on flavor.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B+    (local, close to Pike Place Market, limited seating)
  • Service =  A    (quick and friendly)
  • Food = A+    (hearty, many options and amazingly good)