The Stephanie Inn, Cannon Beach, OR., 7/30/22

hotel exterior, restaurant on second floor – 2740 S. Pacific, Cannon Beach, OR., 97110

The Stephanie Inn Dining Room is of course in the oceanfront Stephanie Inn.  Chef Aaron Bedard creates a 5-course prix fixe tasting menu that changes often and in which you have a choice of entrée.  They have a full bar but also offer wine pairings for the meal.  Built in 1993 the inn is a luxury coastal retreat in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast.  They do 2 seatings in the evening at 5:30 and 8:00 in the second-story room overlooking the mountains and nearby homes.  The large tables are set with cream-colored cloths and brown napkins in a room with a vaulted wooden ceiling.  The room faces east so the glaring sun is not a problem for diners.  Music is in the background and there’s plenty of parking out front. Some tables are on the outside veranda but they didn’t seem to get used for the dinner service.  They didn’t open early, in fact they were a bit late, and so a number of the diners lined up at the door.  The problem with that is many people wanted a cocktail and the servers were trying to get out an amuse bouche and take dinner drink orders – and basically, it felt clunky and ill-planned for a fine dining experience (we waited 25 minutes to place a drink order).  It is hard when the diners are all served at the same time so the place can accommodate more people, but there must be a way to make it flow more smoothly.  That said, the service was friendly and finely caught up with demands to provide a lovely evening with pretty good food too. After the salad was served the chef came out to talk about the evening’s menu and the 2 choices for entrées. Continue reading

Yolk Restaurant, Manzanita, OR., 7/30/22

exterior – 503 Laneda Ave., Manzanita, OR., 97130

Yolk is a small place serving breakfast (all day) and lunch (beginning at 11:00) in the little town of Manzanita.  They have been in business since 2018 and strive to have your dining experience provide a level of flavor and service that reflects their zest for life. It was a very popular place but takes no reservations so show up early if you don’t want to wait.  Inside there was seating at small tables or a few seats were at the kitchen counter.  There were also stools on two sides of the large bar but they were only for those over 21.  On the patio, there were several additional tables.  The hostess at the entry had a list.  Music was in the background and the vibe was casual and fun with a concrete floor, metal siding on the bar, windows to the outdoors, tile front on the kitchen counter and lots of wood and mirrors.  The service was super friendly and would offer advice as well as joke around.  In addition to the menu, there were daily specials.  It was a good place. Continue reading

Neah Kah Nie Bistro, Manzanita, OR., 7/29/22

exterior – 519 Laneda Ave., Manzanita, OR., 97130

Neah-Kah-Nie Bistro was opened in the late fall of 2012 by Owner/Chef Lynne Hopper, who specializes in gourmet comfort food.  I’d call it a casual fine dining place, if that makes sense.  It is named for a coastal headland a few blocks away and located in a 1920’s house with just 7 small tables and a bar.  They added a cover to the tables on the patio to provide additional seating.  The bare wood tables are set with stuffed chairs and music is in the background.  The small kitchen is open behind the serving bar and there are windows around the room to the street and patio.   There were chairs at the bar, which turned out good cocktails.  The service was very friendly, welcoming and helpful.  It was a fun and tasty place to eat. Continue reading

Fitzgerald’s (update), Mohawk, MI, 7/22/22

exterior – 5033 Front Street, Eagle River, MI, 49950

We visited The Fitzgerald in 2018 and much has changed at the Eagle River Inn where it is located.  The dining room is the same but the menu seems smaller.  They still have the whiskey bar but the 12 rooms have now become 6 and they are (you guessed it) twice as big and have air conditioning.  The waves of Lake Superior are still right off the dining room or any room at the inn, so the scenery is excellent.  The dining room is wood-filled with lots of light from the windows.  The crowd is casual and they did have specials for the night.  Service was excellent, friendly and helpful.  They still specialize in barbecue and you can see evidence of adding-on to the kitchen in front of the building, so not sure what will be added.  Portions are generous and combined with the beautiful scenery, this is a lovely place to spend a meal and then retreat to your room to sleep with the sound of the waves.  It’s out of the way but go if you get the chance, especially if you’re a whiskey lover. Continue reading

Smyth, Chicago, 7/14/22

exterior – 177 North Ada Street, Chicago, IL., 60607 – ground floor

Smyth was last visited by Frankie and me in Nov. of 2018.  The interior hasn’t changed much – the main difference this time was eating there in daylight, as the days are much longer in summer.  It does give the room a different feel with the floor-to-ceiling windows being open to the street activity.  The large open kitchen is divided into 2 parts, one serving as the dessert area.  The small bare dark wood tables are well spaced and some bench seating is along one wall.  Music is in the background but you also hear the kitchen calling out orders to one another.  I don’t remember that.  It still serves only a tasting menu with optional drink pairings but there is only one tasting menu (except for allergy substitutions).  The wine list is small and on the pricy side.  The diners seemed more casually dressed than I’d expect in a Michelin 2-star place.  Service was attentive and efficient but not as warm as on our last visit.  We decided to have a bottle of champagne to accompany our tasting.  No menu was provided but one was emailed about a week later. Continue reading

Oriole (update), Chicago, 7/13/22

exterior

We last visited Oriole in Nov. 2018.  Opening in 2016, Chef / Owner Noah Sandoval’s restaurant has 2 Michelin stars.  They still offer only a tasting menu of contemporary American cuisine but their site mentions an extended tasting also.  Optional wine pairings are available.  The first difference we noticed was the entrance – which is now through an open gate on the corner of the alley-like street.  You still stay in that admitting area for a drink before being taken through the sliding door to the restaurant.  Inside has changed a lot with a bar area now opened up where you have your first bites and a drink.  From there you proceed to the kitchen, which is now a huge open space. You have a counter there where you also have a bite and a glass of champagne.  After that, you are finally taken to your large, white cloth-covered table with music in the background.  I’m not a big fan of having to rove around while you’re eating, maybe because it’s hard to take notes and photos, but I like to get settled and soak in the experience.  The staff is first-rate with our main server, Celeste, being a wonderful part of our time there.  They do present you with a ‘menu’ when you’re finished. Continue reading

Au Cheval, Chicago, 7/13/22

building – 800 W. Randolph, Chicago, 60607

Au Cheval is a diner-style bar and medium-sized restaurant serving traditional diner fare. The full bar has strong cocktails and a variety of draught and canned beers. They take no reservations and are quite popular so be prepared to wait or come early.  They did have a few outdoor tables as well as seats along the long bar.  Loud vintage music is in the background, walls are dark wood and the lights are lowered with the row of windows to the outside being heavily tinted to keep lighting low.  There are a few tables but mostly it’s large leather booths that line the length of the place.  Behind the zinc-wrapped bar is the open kitchen.  Service was friendly, helpful and quick.  We were there many years ago and couldn’t quite get why it was so popular, but we went for their signature burger.  While I saw the majority of lunch tables have one or more I found the other menu items much more creative and tasty.  They stood out much more than the burger to me. Continue reading

Sea Pal Cove, Fort Bragg, CA., 7/7/22

from the parking lot – 32390 N Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg, CA, 95437

Sea Pal Cove is on a local fishing pier in Noyo Harbor with all outdoor seating.  The assortment of tables overlooks boats going by.  The small walk-up window has beer and wine to go with your choices as well as non-alcoholic options.  Dogs are welcome and the service was very efficient.  They are known for their really fresh seafood but also have other options.  We tried the fish and chips but what was extra fun were their prawns and chips.  The fish was very moist with a really crisp coating that wasn’t so thick that it smothered the delicate fish.  Not too greasy either.  It was perfect with the tasty tartar sauce they supplied.  The prawns were dynamite.  Sweet and juicy with that fantastic coating, they needed no dipping or seasoning.  The tray also provided lemon and malt vinegar.  The fries were uninspired but adequate.  Some crisp ones and all with nice potato flavor, but they were a frozen slab variety.  Ketchup packets were also on the tray.  All in all a fantastic find that I’ll certainly go back to. Continue reading

The Ledford House Restaurant, Albion, CA, 7/6/22

entrance – 3000 N. Highway 1, Albion, CA, 95410

The Ledford House Restaurant is south of Mendocino on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean.  They can serve 65-90 people in 2 adjacent dining rooms that both are lined with windows looking through to the coastline.  It is owned by a couple Tony and Lisa Geer, where she manages the kitchen and he the front of the house.  The cuisine is influenced by southern France and the Mediterranean with an emphasis on using sustainable sources.  Open Wed – Sun for dinner, they have nightly live music but not sure when it begins as it wasn’t happening when we were there, but we were in early.  In addition to the menu, they have a 3-course bistro special and nightly appetizer and entree specials.  There is a full bar with seating and people were eating there too.  Both rooms had fireplaces and piped-in music in the background. There was plenty of parking out front and tables somewhere outside.  Inside had open windows.  Staff were all friendly and efficient.  It’s not a wow place just good solid food with fun choices. Continue reading

Bettina, Santa Barbara, 6/27/22

exterior – 1014 Coast Village Road, Santa Barbara, CA

Bettina is in a neighborhood shopping center which is too popular for the parking available.  It’s a good-sized place with a large outdoor patio for additional seating.  Windows inside look out onto it as well as the parking lot. They specialize in naturally leavened breads, fine dining and simple dishes based on the owner’s visits to Italy.  Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations are helpful if you want a table, but a bar is inside with first come-first served seating.  Inside the bare wood tables are small and nicely spaced and music is in the background.  The service was helpful and efficient and the pizza was good. Continue reading

Caruso’s, Montecito, CA, 6/26/22

hotel – 1759 S Jameson Ln, Montecito, CA 93108

Caruso’s is in the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel on the ocean front of Montecito serving Italian-inflected coastal cuisine.  It is the fine dining option at the hotel.  The facility was complete around 2019 and definitely delivers the pampered dining experience.  They offer a 4-course tasting menu with at least 4 choices in each category and also a 10-course Chef’s Tasting menu with optional wine pairings. Executive Chef Massimo Falsini was not there but the kitchen was in the most capable hands of Chef de Cuisine Shibani Mone.  We chose the 4-course menu and had our own wine after a well-made Negroni cocktail.  The large white cloth-covered tables are well spaced and are serenaded by the sound of the waves coming ashore.  There are lots of outdoor heaters for when the sun goes down.  When you pull up to the hotel the valet will park your car and then be prepared for a bit of walk down to the beach front.  You’ll have to cross an active railroad track and finally down a flight of stairs, but it’ll be worth the trek, I promise. Continue reading

Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara, 6/26/22

entrance – 900 San Ysidro Lane, Santa Barbara, CA, 93108

The Stonehouse Restaurant is inside a 19th century citrus packing house on the grounds of the San Ysidro Ranch.   Dining is on a green walled patio, an upper story ocean-view terrace or indoors by the wood-burning fireplace.  The contemporary American cuisine stresses fresh, local ingredients of Central Coast California and Santa Barbara in particular.  The San Ysidro Ranch property covers 550 acres and has hosted many celebrities including John and Jackie Kennedy who honeymooned there.  We were seated on their upstairs patio with beautiful views on 3 sides, white cloth-covered tables, and live guitar music downstairs for their Sunday brunch.  They offer lunch and dinner every day except Sunday when lunch turns to brunch which is a 3-course meal of your choice accompanied by an endless glass of champagne. Continue reading

Bouchon, Santa Barbara, 6/25/22

exterior –9 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara, CA, 93101

Bouchon calls itself the ‘wine country cuisine.’  They specialize in local ingredients, “as-fresh-as-and-as-local-as-possible”  and local Santa Barbara wines.  It’s a medium-sized place with a patio out front.  Inside the white cloth-covered tables are on a wood floor, music is in the background, antiqued mirrors are on the walls and the end of the room opens into the kitchen.  Service was helpful, particularly the knowledgeable sommelier, and the staff all were friendly.  The food was very good and I’d go back again if in the area. Continue reading

Cold Spring Tavern, Santa Barbara, 6/25/22

main building – 5995 Stagecoach Road, Santa Barbara, CA, 93105

Cold Spring Tavern offers lunch and dinner at a stagecoach stop that dates from 1868, on the San Marcos Pass near Santa Barbara.  The place is filled with history and an amazing amount of detail is on their webpage <coldspringtavern.com> about the various buildings on the property and the furnishings within.   You can’t miss it as the cars are parked on both sides of the winding road for some time before you hit the place.  On weekends they have live music, a stand where you can buy their barbecue Tri-tip sandwich as well as an outside bar.  If you prefer table service there are a number of outdoor and indoor tables.  Lunch has a smaller menu than dinner, so I’ve included photos of both lunch and dinner menus.  Service was enthusiastic and efficient which really enhanced the dining experience.  The A/C is ‘open windows’ so we left smelling of barbecue smoke, which was no problem.  The onion rings are worth a trip alone but I would love to be able to try some of their dinner options too. Continue reading

Bouchard Restaurant & Inn, Newport, 5/27/22

exterior – 505 Thames Street, Newport, RI, 02840

Bouchard Restaurant has been in business over 20 years and also has a few rooms/suites to stay in.  They have a parking area but you need to go into the restaurant and get a pass to place in your car before parking there.  They have a dress requirement that is on their website as well as reminded about when they call to confirm your reservation.  No jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, etc but I saw no enforcement of that whatsoever.  There were many casually dressed people in the dining room that were obviously regulars due to their rapport with the staff.  There were also ‘dressed-up’ people there but this was only the first odd bit of this place.  They have a full bar which is located adjacent to the check in desk.  Further inside is a medium to small dining area with small white cloth covered tables with full drape underneath.  Lighting is lowered, there is music in the background, carpet is on the floor and the ceiling is low.   They offer a tasting  menu which is 5 courses at the second seating.  Most courses have choices, some with an upcharge.  The food was average at best but the service was awful.  Slow and inattentive, it aggravated me and probably affected the way I perceived the food.  The captain spent little time with many tables and concentrated on the ones he knew.  It’s a fine line to walk, but it bothers me to see tables sit for 20 minutes with their menus still in their hands and staff carrying on conversations neglecting their job. Continue reading

Flo’s Clam Shack, Middletown, RI, 5/27/22

entrance – 4 Wave Ave, Middletown, RI 02842

Flo’s Clam Shack was recommended by one of the servers at the previous night’s dinner.  It has been serving clams since 1936 in Newport, RI.   They are known for their fried clams.  It’s a 2 story place and filled with brick-a-brack.  The building has been hit by at least 5 hurricanes and continues to rebuild. They are open seasonally and closed at the threat of a hurricane.  The place is a little hard to find but they do have a parking lot in back.  They tout their fresh seafood but mostly all I tasted was filler and fried coating.  We tried a number of clam preparations but none of them would ever call me to come back and eat here again. Continue reading

Gracie’s, Providence, 5/26/22

exterior – 194 Washington Street, Providence, RI., 02903

Gracie’s is a medium sized place in downtown Providence with Matt Varga as chef.  There is no valet or assigned lot, so allow some extra time if you need to hunt for street parking.  In addition to the nice sized white cloth covered table they had a number of booth like seats around the perimeter.  Large windows to the street make up one wall of the dining room and they are heavily tinted which darkens the room quite a bit.  Patterned cut outs are on some of the windows and gauzy drapes hang between some of the perimeter tables.  There are a few tables outside.  The wood floor is opposite the high dark ceiling with hammered copper inserts in some of the wood columns and booth dividers.   The view out the window is of the street that is mostly filled with a bank building and its sign.  They offer an a la carte menu as well as 2 tasting menus of 5 or 7 courses.  Optional wine pairings are available and they have a full bar.  We had pre-ordered the 7 course tasting and ordered our own wine.  They promised to email and menu but never did.  It is a good place anyway. Continue reading

Al Forno, Providence, 5/25/22

exterior –  577 South Water Street, Providence, RI

Al Forno Restaurant was opened in 1980 by Johanne Killeen and George Germon to use New England’s farms and waters to produce renditions of Italian food.   Al Forno means “from the oven”  and they use wood burning ovens and open flame grills to incorporate that concept into their dishes.  It is where the concept of grilled pizza was first used, which is served as an appetizer.  It’s a larger place with a dedicated parking lot.  Inside there are 2 floors for eating and a bar area that also serves food.  Small white cloth covered tables are quickly turned for the constant flow of people.  The downstairs room we were in had a wall of windows to the parking lot with the opposite wall’s windows being mirrored.  The lighting is lowered and no music was in the background.   Service was very friendly but not well coordinated.  Restaurants need to learn that if you provide very small tables you can’t bring too many dishes to the table at the same time.  Our pizza came out first following the bread bowl and then quickly followed by clams.  Food was piled to an uncomfortable mess.  I asked the server to slow down a bit and then it was 30 minutes after we finished that before anything else came.  It was good food but timing can really make me less fond of a place. Continue reading

Au Courant Regional Kitchen, Omaha, 5/7/22

exterior – 6064 Maple St, Omaha, NE 68104

Au Courant offers a 6-course chef’s tasting menu that changes weekly.  Chef/co-owner Benjamin Maides works with local producers to find and feature the freshest ingredients.  Maides partnered with local restauranteur Carlos Mendez to open Au Courant in Nov. 2016 and now “Chovy” Caniglia is the Chef de Cuisine with “Barnie” Barnard serving as Sous Chef.   They serve some really fine food.  It’s a long space with the front half taken up by a U-shaped bar surrounded with stools.  Art and mirrors decorate the unfinished walls on either side and lots of plants are everywhere.  The high tin ceiling has lighting that was pretty bright and then turned down midway through out meal.  The small tables are topped with marble and set on an old wood floor.  They have an a la carte menu at the bar whereas the dining room is offered the tasting with an optional addition of oysters on the halfshell.  They also offer wine pairings.  We got a half dozen of the oysters and our own wine.  One quirk was that you could buy a ’round’ for the kitchen and then they’d ring a bell in back. Continue reading

V. Mertz, Omaha, 5/6/22

exterior – 1022 Howard St, Omaha, NE 68102

V. Mertz is in the Old Market Passageway of Omaha.  The space between two close buildings was covered with a roof and V. Mertz  came to be  44 years ago on the lower level, as a wedding gift.  The location allows the inside rooms to open to the ‘patio tables’ that are in the passageway.  There is no dedicated parking – it is either at street meters or paid lots.  The interior rooms are fairly dark with brick walls lined with wine bottles and the wall between rooms is filled with lit liquor bottles.  The small tables are cloth covered under a low tin ceiling and no music is in the background.  They presented us with the a la carte menu but when asked they brought out the tasting menu with optional pairings.  Menus change regularly, as both were dated. There is a large wine list and full bar.  We chose the tasting and ordered our own wine.  The food is fun, creative and tasty – go if you can. Continue reading

The Drover Restaurant & Lounge, Omaha, 5/6/22

entrance – 2121 S 73rd St, Omaha, NE 68124

The Drover invented the whisky marinated steak idea over 40 years ago. It opened in 1969 as the “Cork ‘N Cleaver” and changed to the current name 10 years later.  It is a large place divided into several smaller rooms of 4-5 tables each, all with no windows.  A large bar is in one room, the lights are lowered and no music is in the background.  Bare wood tables, brick walls, lower ceilings and carpet keep the conversation noise very manageable.  There is a different menu for lunch but most of the steaks on the dinner menu are available if you want.  The steaks are marinated in a combination of secret ingredients for just 15 minutes before grilling so the marinade does not overwhelm the flavor of the beef but does enhances tenderness.  Steaks can be ordered without the marinade soak but you would lose out, even if you are not a whisky fan.  All dinners are served with bread, soup or salad and choice of potato or vegetable.  At lunch they skip the bread and the salad is via salad bar.  It’s old school and good. Continue reading

The Prime Rib, Baltimore, 5/1/22

street entrance – 1101 N Calvert St, Baltimore, MD 21202

The Prime Rib was founded by brothers Buzz and Nick Beler in 1965 and is still a family run business.  It evokes feelings of 1940s Hollywood with lower lighting, live music, stiff drinks and fabulous food and service.  They now have several locations.  The Baltimore location is a dark place with art on the walls, white clothes on the tables, comfortable seating, black walls with gold trim, leopard print carpet and complimentary valet parking in the garage below.  It’s the kind of place that makes you feel welcome, that they’re glad you’re there.  Timing was relaxed as we enjoyed a terrific martini and live piano music.  The server was fantastic and really added to the overall experience.  If you are in the mood for beef, put this place on your list.  We were one of the last ones out so I took interior photos then.  (Didn’t get a pic of the menu but you can find it on their website <https://theprimeribs.com&gt; and make sure you pick the city you want).

Continue reading

Petit Louis Bistro, Baltimore, 5/1/22

building – 4800 Roland Ave, Baltimore, MD 21210

Petit Louis offers classic French bistro dishes with emphasis on seasonal and regional ingredients.   It opened in June 2000 and was the second restaurant of Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf.   They chose the location of a former neighborhood hot spot in a 1897 era Tudor style building that was the country’s first strip mall.  There were not many French bistros in Baltimore then and it was popular as soon as the doors opened.  They re-did the interior and hired Chef Chris Scanga to run the kitchen. It has 2 indoor rooms and a large covered patio area.  Inside the small marble topped tables are closely set and lots of windows to the street add natural light.  A large bar is part of one room, no music is in the background and there is a parking lot our front as well as street parking.  It had a fun ambiance with attentive service as well as good food.  I’d go back. Continue reading

Magdalena, Baltimore, 4/30/22

exterior – 205 E Biddle St, Baltimore, MD 21202

Magdalena is in Mt. Vernon’s Relais & Chateaux Ivy Hotel and run by Chef Scott Bacon.  Closed for about 7 months during Covid the historic mansion did a major re-design to the restaurant.  Now it is labeled as a Maryland Bistro rather than the former fine dining concept.  The color tones of all 4 of the dining rooms now are similar and there is a more variation in the cost.  Patio dining is available and one of the rooms is in the wine cellar.  Exposed brick walls have some display cabinets of historic objects and rugs to fit each room are on the floor.  Music is in the background and well spaced small tables are now marble topped yet still set with nice white cloth napkins.  The lighting was fairly bright but pleasant and staff were knowledgable about the menu.  Valet parking is available and there were a few specials offered that evening.  It was good. Continue reading

Charleston, Baltimore, 4/29/22

entrance – The Promenade at Harbor East, 1000 Lancaster St, Baltimore, MD 21202

Charleston was opened  by restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf in 1997 in the Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore, MD.  They now have at least 6 restaurants in the city.  Chef Wolf offers a constantly changing menu and even cooked lunch at this place for Julia Child in 1999.  Chef’s reputation is that she cooks at this, her flagship, most every night.  Unfortunately she was not there when we visited and I wonder if that’s why our meal was so unsatisfactory.  The food is a combination of French and Southern cuisines and she has been nominated 9 times for the James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award.  The fairly large place enters from a side street, which is not where Google Maps directs you to go.  The bar is to your right as we were led to a table that looked directly into the large open kitchen.  Table sizes varied but all were set with white cloths and napkins and well-spaced, no music was in the background and the lighting was lowered.  The menu offers prix fixe menu of 3-6 courses, which you pick from the entire menu, with optional wine pairings.  Desserts are complimentary with your meal and an optional cheese course is available. Continue reading

Nicola’s Restaurant, Cincinnati, 4/22/22

exterior – 1420 Sycamore St, Cincinnati, OH 45202

Nicola’s Restaurant is in the building that once was a barn for the city’s 19th century incline trollies.  It was established in 1996 by owner Nicola Pietoso and after 20 years his son Cristian now is in charge. He added some new second floor seating and expanded the wine cellar.  In addition to seating downstairs there is also a bar with seating.  The brick walls are punctuated by the structural beams and high ceilings.    Downstairs a giant chandelier hangs overheard and windows to the outside let in light and look out onto the patio tables.  White tablecloths and napkins are on all tables and music is in the background.  Valet parking is available out front.  The place is really popular so a reservation is a must and even with a reservation we still had to wait in the bar until out table was ready.  They serve Italian cuisine and offer a chef crafted 5 course tasting menu.  We happened to be there during restaurant week and so a 3 course menu was also available as well as the a la carte selections.  We ordered a la carte. Continue reading

Carmen’s Deli, Dayton, OH., 4/22/22

exterior – 40 N Main St, Dayton, OH 45423

Carmen’s Deli is in downtown Dayton, opening in 2009.  Chef Haitham Imam was encouraged by his wife Carmen to leave corporate dining and open his own place.  When the downtown tower where they were located went into bankruptcy the owners of the Kettering Tower across the street, saw their popularity and offered them a spot in their building.  The deli is open 8:30 – 2:30 weekdays and the bar runs 4-9 on Thurs. and Fri.  As we entered we were greeted and directed to the counter where you place your order.  There you can watch you sandwich being made and direct the toppings.  After it’s ready you proceed to the register and pick a table.  There were also tables outside.  The pair cooking that day were personable and gave a good show.   The food was fine, not outstading but very edible and satisfying. Continue reading

Boca Restaurant, Cincinnati, 4/21/22

exterior – 114 E 6th St, Cincinnati, OH 45202

Boca came to being in October of 2001, the concept of Chef/Owner David Falk.  It opened in the Northside community featuring flavors of Italy and France, then moved to the Oakley neighborhood in 2004 and stayed for 9 years.  It moved to the heart of downtown Cincinnati (the former Maisonette space) in 2013, where it is today.  It’s a fairly large space with a few seats at the kitchen counter, stools at the bar and a second story.  Downstairs there is a combination of booths, various sizes of tables and bench seating with music in the background.  Lots of pillows were on the bench seats and lights were lowered.  The large open kitchen allows you to see some other foods as they come out.  Valet parking is available, otherwise it means using a paid garage.  Staff were super friendly and helpful.  We wanted to try lots of things and the server was willing to course them out for us.  Tables are close enough that conversation can happen between occupants.  I can see why many use this as a ‘special occasion’ place but if I lived closer, I’d go all the time – it’s that good. Continue reading

Herb and Thelmas Tavern, Covington, KY., 4/21/22

building – 718 W Pike St, Covington, KY 41011

Herb and Thelmas Tavern is just across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky.   They are known for their burgers and cold beer – serving the area for 83 years.  They buy local ingredients and make the hamburger patties fresh daily.   In 1939 Henry “Heine” Boehmker opened Heine’s Cafe.  In 1965 his son and daughter-in-law renamed it Herb and Thelma’s Tavern, after themselves.  In 1969 another Boehmker began working at the tavern and then buys them out in 1982.  In 2015 the Fessler family became the owners, but a photo of the original Herb is still on the front door.  It is a small place with 2 rooms, one of which houses the cooking/bar area and the other just tables and the bathrooms.  The main room has seats at the bar area as well as tables.  The lights are lowered, there is either TV or music in the background and lots of memorabilia cover the walls.  They have a few draft beers as well as a full bar. The owner and patrons were all super friendly.  In fact one of the gentlemen stopped by on his way out to say hello and wish a good day. Continue reading

Jeff Ruby’s Precinct, Cincinnati, 4/20/22

exterior – 311 Delta Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45226

Note 7/19/22 – Just had a call from the customer service person at Jeff Ruby’s Precinct that saw my write-up and was concerned that we were unhappy.  Now that’s some incredible service.  She took the effort to find a phone number to reach me and that is impressive.  That said, so many people raved about this place, don’t be turned off by my experience.  I’d love to hear about your experience if you go.  If I ever get back to Cincinnati I would consider going myself.  They didn’t pay me to say this but honest caring is what can make a great restaurant and they do care.

Jeff Ruby’s Precinct started in 1981, in the former Cincinnati Police Patrol House Number 6 – a turn of the century Romanesque style structure – that holds the ‘longest, continuously running white tablecloth restaurant in the city.’  It has been recognized by a number of publications and is well known in the city.  They pride themselves on the excellent service, quality of food and overall dining experience. Some street parking is available nearby but they also offer valet service.  Inside the lights are lowered and there is lots of red upholstry to go with the brick walls.  Some stained glass windows are in the downstairs dining rooms and chandeliers.  Most notable are the large cut-outs of groups of policemen on the walls.   It feels clubby.  In the entry there are numerous awards and press along with photos of famous diners.  Although this place gets lots of praise our experience was not the best.  Our steaks were both overcooked and tasteless while the potatoes were undercooked.  In their defense they offered to cook others but I didn’t think they could do better.  They ended up comping the steaks which was more than gracious so I think the place has promise but I will never go back. Continue reading

J.C. Holdway (second visit), Knoxville, 4/14/22

entrance – 501 Union Ave SW, Knoxville, TN 37902

Back for our second visit to J. C. Holdway and it was a busier night at the corner restaurant.  The fairly large place goes fairly far back with tables in various places with an L-shaped bar taking up the first room.  On the way to the back portion we passed a couple cooking areas.  Exposed ducts run across the ceiling opposite the older wood floors.  Bench seating is along some walls and the tables are nicely sized bare wood set with large well starched towel shaped napkins. Lights are lowered but much light comes through the many windows before sundown, music is in the background and it was a bit noisy.  Service was once again very friendly but pacing was quite a bit slower probably due to the crowd and several large groups. Continue reading

J.C. Holdway, Knoxville, 4/13/22

exterior – entrance – 501 Union Ave SW, Knoxville, TN 37902

J.C. Holdway is named after Chef Joseph Lenn’s late uncle, Joe Holdway, who sought quality food adventures throughout his life.  Now Chef Lenn hopes to provide that sort of dining experience to his customers, and that he does.  His professional career has certainly readied him to meet the challenge.  A Knoxville native, he so enjoyed cooking for friends and family that he decided to attend culinary school, after which he went to work as an intern at Blackberry Farm and then the Peninsula Grill followed by working with Sean Brock to open the Capitol Grill in Nashville. An urge to return to east Tennessee took him back to Blackberry Farm where he became executive chef of the Barn restaurant and received the James Beard Award for the Best Chef Southwest in 2013.  He opened his own place in 2016 in downtown Knoxville using primarily wood-fire techniques.  Lenn’s attempt to provide an outstanding experience to guests succeeds so well that we cancelled out next evening’s reservation in order to dine with him again.  Strong recommendation for this wonderful place and look for another chronicle of luscious dishes on this site in a couple days. Continue reading

Oliver Royale, Knoxville, 4/12/22

exterior – 5 Market Square, Knoxville, TN 37902

Oliver Royale is one of the two restaurants in the historic boutique Oliver Hotel. They serve new American cusine with a focus on seasonal and regional products in the more upscale and smaller of the 2 settings.  There is an entrance from the Market Square as well as within the hotel.  The building dates back to 1876 but has been very updated to include a bench seating along the walls with tables in the middle for the first 2/3’s of the place and a u-shaped bar with stools for the last third.  Windows to the street, faint music in the background, lowered lighting, acid washed mirrors on the walls, sound panels lining the ceiling, and a enormous skylight make up the room.. The small bare wood tables are set fairly close and there are a few tables available on a front outside patio section.  It’s nicely done but comes off a bit sterile.  Service was friendly but the pacing that started out so fast slowed way down as the evening wore on.  The food was mixed.  There is also an old ‘speak-easy’ in the hotel if you want more drinks afterward. Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 4/10/22

oysters – 4422 Gaston Ave, Dallas, TX 75246

Cry Wolf is such a treasure, I can’t not post it when we go.  Chef Ross Demers has moved the bar high for other Dallas establishments and so has sommelier and General Manager Tim Case.  The menu is constantly changing but what is consistent is that there are no duds.  You won’t find me saying that about many places.  It doesn’t fill you with bread and there is only one small candy for dessert but somehow that all works magically.  When you find that rare place that is operating at such a level you really want your friends to experience it too.   So, here is the latest meal at this gem of east Dallas. Continue reading

Roots Southern Table, Dallas, 4/7/22

exterior – 13050 Bee St Suit 160, Farmers Branch, TX 75234

Roots Southern Table is all about Chef Tiffany Derry’s southern upbringing.  Eating with the seasons and never wasting anything were mantras of her family.  She has been nominated for James Beard awards in a couple categories.  The far north Dallas location opened in June of 2021 in a strip-like shopping center.  That means there is plenty of parking but it gives the place a slightly sterile atmosphere.  Reservations are a must and even with one we were kept waiting for 15 minutes as other guests were seated.  We were out with friends that evening so Frankie made less of an appearance and I didn’t make as many notes on our food.  Pictures will give you a good feel, though.  The food did have a nice amout of flavor but even with all the vegetables I left feeling heavy on the starch.  Our server could have helped with that but he was ‘all about the bread.’  They have a full bar, the noise level is high and portioning is variable. Continue reading

The Fearrington House Restaurant, Pittsboro, NC., 4/1/22

exterior – 230 Market St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

The Fearington House Restaurant is located in Fearington Village, just outside Chapel Hill in Pittsboro, NC.  They have been in operation over 40 years, with the restaurant being in the original farmhouse.  The couple that started it, R.B. and Jenny(she ran the kitchen) Fitch had a dream to turn the dairy farm into a community.  The property itself has an inn and homes for sale as well as stores and event space to rent.  The restaurant has several rooms in the building, one of which houses the bar.  The widely spaced tables are double clothed with matching napkins and armless chairs.  Lots of windows look out onto the property and the interior lights are lowered. They offer an a la carte menu as well as a Chef’s tasting with optional wine pairings.  We had the Chef’s tasting menu and the pacing was really slow and the portions were on the large side.  While service was trying to be friendly it was almost intrusive with the constant query of “what are your thoughts on this one?” It was a beautiful place to stay but the food would only rate okay – nothing made me want to lick the plate or wish I had more. Continue reading

Herons, Cary, 3/31/22

dining room entrance –The Umstead Hotel and Spa, 100 Woodland Pond Dr, Cary, NC 27513

Herons is the signature restaurant in the Umstead Hotel and Spa.  The 98 seat restaurant features a view of the kitchen as well as the landscaped grounds and art on the walls.  The large, white cloth covered tables are appointed with chairs and couches with pillows.  The room is decorated in earthtones with lots of wood, lowered lighting and no music.  The elegant place takes itself seriously in that they have a dress code asking you not to wear jeans, shorts, sandals or tattered clothing. The menu changes seasonally and tries to feature local produce and proteins.  It is divided into 4 categories which each have about 5 choices for you to pick from  Some choices do have a supplemental charge.  Beverage pairings are available in addition to a huge wine list.  Service was first rate and the pacing and portion control were spot on.  The food was very good and they threw in lots of little things in between courses. Continue reading

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Raleigh, 3/31/22

exterior – 237 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is one of the Ashley Christensen restaurants (Death & Taxes, Pooles, etc.).  It’s a corner building with a long counter along one wall, above which the menu is written.  Across from that are lots of small tables set with adjustable stools, that looks out onto street views.  Parking is on the street at meters or there is a pay parking lot next to the building.  Music was in the background and a greeter asigns you to a table.  They are mostly about fried chicken and southern style sides but also offer meatloaf, catfish, pot pie and various sandwiches.   There is a separate menu for brunch.  Here the fried chicken is brined, then dipped in buttermilk, dedged in flour and finally cooked in a pressure fryer. The honey is drizzled on last.  Service was efficient. Continue reading

Crawford and Son, Raleigh, 3/30/22

exterior – 618 N Person St, Raleigh, NC 27604

Crawford and Son is a casual neighborhood restaurant in historic Oakwood.  It is medium sized, with dim lighting, loud music and a long bar across from the wall of small tables.  It was packed in the middle of the week so the crowd added to the noise level.  It also has no dedicated parking so allow time to hunt around the local streets.  It opened in 2016 and offers a full bar.  The small wine list has a pretty hefty mark up, albeit a nice selection.  Brick walls, exposed duct work in the ceiling and a few sets of antlers make up the interior.  Reservations are a must, even for the counter seating.  It was buzzing with people and the food was amazing.  Also the service was spectacular.  Our server, Sydney, really knew how to pace the meal and add just the right amount of conversation to enhance the evening.  Strong recommendation here. Continue reading

Second Empire Restaurant, Raleigh, 3/29/22

front – 330 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27603

Second Empire Restaurant is in the historic Dodd-Hinsdale House, whose architectural style is the Second Empire Victorian style developed in France under Napoleon III and marked by heavy ornate modification.  The home was built for Mayor Dodd and completed in 1879 but lost quickly due to finances.  Col. Hinsdale purchased it in 1890 and it remained in the family till 1971.  Till 1993 the house suffered vandalism and then Ted Reynolds and family bought it and started the restoration to transform it into a restaurant.  In Sept. 1997 the restaurant and tavern opened for business.  The structure retains its original exterior, heart pine flooring, masonry walls and windows.  Four main rooms of the main body now make up the restaurant and a tavern was made from additional rooms and a glassed atrium room.  There is a small parking lot by the back entrance and otherwise you’re on your own.  At the front entrance is a dramatic stairway lined with photos and awards.  High ceilings, soft music in the background, lowered lighting and art on the walls surround the widely spaced large white cloth covered tables.  Chef Daniel Schurr offered a couple specials in addition to the printed menu and offers many gluten free options.  His style was to stack multiple ingredients into each dish.  Service was friendly but the pace was slow. Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 3/27/22

exterior – 4422 Gaston Ave, Dallas, TX 75246

Cry Wolf is a great place, and unfortunately too many people know that now.  We had to book a couple weeks ahead to find a reservation we were in town with.  Everytime I go I think I won’t post it cause it’s already on this site, but the food is so good I just can’t resist sharing the photos with you.  Another wonderful part of this place is the changing wine list, which introduces me to things I haven’t had that go with food well.  The ambiance is great and there’s a parking lot at the end of the shopping center.  Without further ado, I present photos of our latest fabulous meal (sweetbreads and escargot were amazing). Continue reading

Charlie’s Steak House, New Orleans, 3/23/22

building – 4510 Dryades St, New Orleans, LA 70115

Charlie’s Steak House was started by Charlie Petrossi in 1952.  It’s one of New Orleans oldest steakhouses and prides itself on its unique service model.  There is no menu passed out, if you ask for one you are laughed at as a first-timer.  You simply tell your waiter which steak you want, how you want it cooked and the server will suggest your sides.  They were closed for 3 years after Hurricane Katrina and only opened after the family sold it to Matthew Dwyer who had lived nearby and helped with bartending duties.  He purchased Charlie’s in 2007 and re-opened in 2008 but tragically died at age 49 in the summer of 2020 as Covid was taking over. Several couples joined forces to have the historic restaurant start up again in January 2021.  They do have a menu on their website <charliessteakhousenola.com>, so look it over before you go.  The food is good not great but it’s fun to go to such a retro place. Continue reading

Pascal’s Manale Restaurant, New Orleans, 3/23/22

building – 1838 Napoleon Ave, New Orleans, LA 

Pascal’s Manale Restaurant was started as just Manale’s in 1913 by Frank Manale.  Pascal Radosta, Frank’s nephew, was part of the original crew and took the place over in 1937 when Frank died.  Many years later he wanted to add his name to the restaurant but still wanted to honor his uncle and thus it became Pascal’s Manale.  Pas died in 1958 and his youngest brother Jake took over.  They are famous for their BBQ shrimp and raw oyster bar.  It is a large place with 2 main dining rooms and the good sized bar area that houses the oyster shucking bar.  The dining rooms have white cloth covered tables and windows to the street.  Some art is in the dining rooms but the bar is covered with lots of framed photos.  They offer a separate lunch menu, a parking lot and great service. Continue reading

Domilise’s, New Orleans, 3/22/22

exterior – 5240 Annunciation St, New Orleans, LA 70115

Domilise’s Po-boys and Bar was founded in 1930s by Peter and Sophie Domilise who lived in the house above. Sam and “Miss Dot” ran the place for over 75 years until her death in 2013.  The family evacuated in 2005, due to the impact of Hurricane Katrina but otherwise it has been continuously operated by future generations.  The single room place has been featured in numerous cooking shows and guide books like Food Wars and Chowdown Countdown – the day we visited there was a bit of chaos remaining from the filming there the day prior.  You entered on the side of the corner building and placed your order and paid at the bar.  You could wait there or claim one of the 5 indoor tables or one of the several outside.  The kitchen counter was at one end of the room and they called your name when your order was ready.  The interior walls were covered with photos and memorabilia.  Staff were friendly  and efficient.  The food was average. Continue reading

Commander’s Palace (update), New Orleans, 3/21/22

exterior – 1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130

It’s been almost 7 years since I’ve been to Commander’s Palace.  The last meal was so disappointing I haven’t wanted to go back but enter Chef Megan “Meg” Bickford, who has worked in the kitchen since 2008 but in Oct. 2020 became Executive Chef, following the 18 year reign of Tory McPhail.  She has livened it up and tonight’s meal was the best I’ve ever had at Commander’s.   It has been in the Garden District since 1893 and is still owned by members of the Brennan family.  Chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse have worked there to present leading-edge haute creole cuisine.  The large building has a patio/bar area in back which is overlooked by the upstairs Garden Room.  Downstairs is a more traditionally elegant room.  Service was great, attentive and friendly – something its struggled with in my past visits. Continue reading

Mandina’s Restaurant, New Orleans, 3/21/22

street exterior – 3800 Canal St, New Orleans, LA 70119

Mandina’s Restaurant was first opened as a grocery store at 3800 Canal Street by Sebastian Mandina in 1898.  With the addition of his sons in the 1900s it became a pool hall that sold sandwiches to the many Italian immigrants and others living in the mid-city area.  By 1932 the sons turned it into Mandina’s Restaurant, with the family living upstairs. It is now in the hands of fourth generation family members and has benefitted from its proximity to the Canal St. streetcar.  Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters caused damage to the place and they had to close for 18 months to make repairs and now are trying to bring it back to the way it was in 1930.  Today the large pink house on a corner, has 2 huge dining room and a long bar with a footrail but no stools.  Windows to the street bring in even more light to the high ceiling room.  No music was in the background, posters are on the walls and some TVs run but are muted. Continue reading

Liuzza’s by The Track, New Orleans, 3/21 & 22/22

exterior – 1518 N Lopez St, New Orleans, LA 70119

Liuzza’s by the Track is a couple blocks from the New Orleans Fairgrounds, where the annual horse races and Jazz & Heritage Festival  are held.  It has been family owned and operated since 1996, but the 1930’s corner building is an historical landmark.  Liuzza’s is known for its signature BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy and other genuine New Orleans staples. Only closed on Sunday, except if the Saints’ are playing, it is quite popular.  Entering at the corner the room is filled with photos and memoriabilia.  A long bar runs the length of the room and you can eat and/or drink here as well as at the tables inside and out.  Windows to the street add extra light, music is in the background and parking is on the street.  Specials are on a board to supplement the menu.  Staff were super friendly, helpful and efficient.  We had to go back for a second visit and another of their shrimp Po-Boys.  Good place. Continue reading

Valette, Healdsburg, 3/12/22

building – 344 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Valette is a medium-sized restaurant in Healdsburg, CA in Sonoma County.  It was the dream of two local brothers to create a dining experience featuring local farmers, winemakers and artisans.  They craft the menu around these local items along with sustainably raised meats.  Chef Dustin Valette is the kitchen partner and Aaron Garzini is the wine partner.  They have also opened a huge, more casual venue in town but their father often makes the ’rounds’ of dinner guests at Valette.  It offers Chef Valette’s ‘Trust me’ tasting menu, with a minimum of 5 courses at $18 each (a 5 course is required if you have a party greater than 7) and optional wine pairings offered.  There is a corkage fee ($25-45) if you want to bring your own wine. Continue reading

Crystal Beer Parlor, Savannah, 3/3/22

Exterior

The Crystal Beer Parlor building was the “Gerken Family Grocery Store” in the early 1900’s, with the owners living above it.  It sold in the early 1930’s  and was one of the first American eating establishments to serve alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition.  Rumor was that they had been selling illegal liquor as a speakeasy during Prohibition.  The walls were covered with scenes from Savannah’s past and portraits of people.  In one room were blown up copies of the original menus.  It’s a fairly large place in a wedge building on a ‘corner’ with a huge tented area in the back, where parking used to be.  Inside is a counter room with stools and some booth seating and other rooms are a mix of tables and booths.   Service was prompt, efficient and friendly.  They are known for their burgers and housemade onion rings.

Continue reading

The Grey, Savannah, 3/2/22

exterior

The Grey is a restaurant in a 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus Terminal.  It was painstakingly restored to its original luster before opening in 2014 in historic downtown Savannah by Partner John Morisano.  He recruited Chef and Partner Mashama Bailey who was named the 2019 James Beard Foundation’s best chef in the southeast, to join him.  As you enter there is a small bar with a different menu and then you pass the kitchen, located in the old ticket booth, before you find the dining room. Within this room, filled with booths and tables is a large C-shaped bar.  Numbers on the wall represent former boarding gates, with #3 leading to outdoor tents set up during Covid.  In the dining room you’ll find a high ceiling, bench seating around the walls, small tables with white tablecloths, music in the background, lowered lights  with a neon display at the top of the ceiling and the echo-y feel of a bus station. The menu is a 3 course dinner which you pick from 4 choices in each category.  Some raw oysters and a few snacks, as well as dessert, are available if you want more.  It’s great – check it out. Continue reading

The Olde Pink House, Savannah, 3/1/22

exterior – front

The Olde Pink House dates back to 1771 (Habersham House) where the soft native brick bled trhough the plastered walls to change the color from white to pink.  It housed the Habershams till the 1800s when it became the Planter’s Bank, with the old money vaults now serving as wine cellars.  It was added on to at that time and later occupied by the military during the Civil War.  After that it was used as a bookstore, colonial tea room and offices while suffering decay and neglect. In 1970 it underwent a one year structural restoration and the restaurant opened in 1971.  In 1992 it changed hands and had more refurbishing. A fire in 2018 damaged the upstairs ballroom and it closed for 4 months for repairs.  On the lower level is a tavern restaurant serving food in a more casual setting.  It was fun to see but the food was over-rated and mostly fried. Continue reading

Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, Chicago, 2/24/22

entrance

Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf is a large steakhouse offering traditional cuisine with a French flair.  The place has no windows and so is quite dark with yellow lighting and music in the background.  There are a number of rooms with lots of booths, free standing tables and bar stools.  Lots of mirrors on the walls, candles on the table and large chandeliers give it a ‘cabaret’ feel.  It is a sister restaurant to Au Cheval, which does not take reservations.  The service was great and the bar made good strong cocktails.  In addition to the menu there were a couple nightly specials, one fish and one meat. The server was well informed about the menu and able to guide our selections and quantities.  They now have a second location in Las Vegas.  It is a fun and tasty place to eat. Continue reading

Moody Tongue, Chicago, 2/23/22

Exterior

Moody Tongue expanded their brewery to include The Bar, a casual restarant with snacks and drinks, and The Dining Room, a fine dining option which is paired with beer at the highest caliber, striving to unite beer and cuisine in an unprecedented, interactive way.  Chef Jared Wentworth was recruited by Moody’s President and Brewmaster Jared Rouben when they expanded their operation to include fine dining in 2019.   The small 28 seat dining room offers only a 15 course tasting menu alongside specialty beer pairings.  The Dining Room has recieved a 2 Michelin star rating.  It’s a dark room with dark wood walls, black tables and chairs and low lighting.  Music is in the background and some windows looks out to the street but they are covered with blinds.  They offer 2 seatings (5:30 & 8:30) each evening that start promptly and have a tough cancellation policy, so be sure before you book.  Everyone seemed to get the beer pairings with their tasting and they are a bargain at just $45pp.  It was a younger, more casual crowd but the service people felt programmed with their introductions of the dishes and often picked up the plates while you were still chewing.  The plates were often lost with so many ingredients. Continue reading

The Dearborn, Chicago, 2/22/22

entrance

The Dearborn opened in 2016 in a large corner space on the Loop in downtown Chicago.  Two sisters with lots of experience in the hospitality industry joined together to open the restaurant inspired by Chicago’s past, with scratch made approach to the food. Windows to the streets make up a couple walls of this multi room place. A combination of booths and wood topped tables as well as stools in the bar fill the space that has music in the background. Service is friendly and efficient.  They offered umbrella bags as well as a coat hanger stand before we were seated in the comfy large booth.  We had a wonderful relaxed meal while watching the place fill up at noon. I would go again. Continue reading

Cry Wolf (update), Dallas, 2/17/22

exterior

Frankie and I wrote-up visits to Cry Wolf in Nov. and Dec. of 2021 and then went back with my husband to enjoy their food again, without Frankie, in Feb 2022 (she was tired).  I am so glad we did!  The place has gotten much more crowded and now they have a reservation system which we were lucky to snag a table on.  Chef/Owner Ross Demers has changed the menu a lot each time we’ve visited, but a few items have been repeated.  The wine selection is small but extremely well selected and the sommelier, Tim can help find a wonderful wine to go with your dinner or the bartender was turning out lots of fancy cocktails.  The cozy place has lowered lighting, music in the background and lovely friendly service.  I can’t wait to go back and hope if you are in the area you will give it a try.   The plates vary in size but all have wonderful creative combinations full of flavor.  We were lucky to catch Chef Liam Byres before ordering and ask what he thought was special that night. Continue reading

Blue Heaven, Key West, 1/29/22

entrance

Blue Heaven is a well known destination in Key West serving breakfast, lunch and dinner – all al fresco.  The very casual spot does not take reservations but has a good sized bar across the street with chairs, tables, music stage and ping-pong table.  Roosters roam through the tables and lots of funky decorations give the place lots of character.  We got there pretty early and still had to wait 45 minutes – a fairly accurate estimate by the greeter –  but it was pleasant across the street and the drinks were actually a $1 cheaper.  They had a stage like the main dining area does but it was not active.  There is a window into the bakery that you could look into going to the bathrooms and also one to the gift shop.  An assortment of umbrellas and canopies help to provide shade in the dining area.  Some canned music was in the background before the band got started. Continue reading

El Siboney Restaurant, Key West, 1/28/22

exterior

El Siboney, named for an indigenous tribe and now a town in Cuba, opened in 1984, changing owners in 2004 but is still family owned and operated.  There are 2 locations in the Key West area.  We were at the one at 900 Catherine Street and it was good sized with a nice amount of parking around the building.   They are well known for their reasonable prices, family-friendly ambiance, large portions and tasty food.  The exterior looks like a brick house and inside seating is throughout numerous rooms with lots of decorations on the wood walls in each room as well as a bar in the front room.  Tables are well spaced and the oil cloth is covered with a hard sheet of plastic (must be lots of sharing across the table) and music is in the background.  The staff are friendly and efficient. Continue reading

Café Marquesa, Key West, 1/27/22

exterior

Café Marquesa, serving contemporary American cuisine, seats just 50 people in the restaurant associated with the Marquesa Hotel.  The corner location had several tables outside with most of them inside along with bar stools that offered drinks and food for walk-ins.  The lights were lowered slightly but the numerous windows let in lots of street light.  No music was in the background and the small tables were covered with white cloths.  Chef Graham Dailey (from the Peninsula Grill) stood in the dining room in front of the trompe l’oeil painting that surrounded the kitchen window.  He looked over all the food before it was served but never came around to the tables.  Lots of mirrors and art were on the wall and bench seating was along a couple of the walls.  It had an elegant feel and efficient service.  I would recommend giving it a try. Continue reading

Louie’s Backyard, Key West, 1/27/22

exterior

Louie Signorelli started Louie’s Backyard in 1971 in his ocean front Victorian home that seated just 12 people.  In 1983 Phil and Pat Tenney renovated the place and transformed it into what is there today.   The chef of 30 years prepares each dish to order using locally caught seafood and produce specifically grown for them from Island Farms.  That commitment to quality makes them quite popular but there are many tables in the house and a huge patio overlooking the water to accommodate guests. The back of the house is where the dining rooms are and the back is a wall of windowed doors that allow everyone to enjoy the view and fresh air.  Even so, the tables are set with white tablecloths and napkins.  Service was very friendly, helpful and efficient. One small room in the front serves as an interior bar.  The lunch menu is slightly smaller than the dinner menu but also less expensive.  There was one special and it’s a place I would happily go back to. Continue reading

Seaside Cafe at the Southern Most House, Key West, 1/27/22

Southernmost House / hotel

The Seaside Cafe is on the grounds of the Southernmost House just a few steps from the Atlantic Ocean.  The Queen Anne style mansion looks over the large outdoor area with the walk-up cafe.  There are several seating areas and a large bar.  Some umbrellas and other cover are available.  Once you are seated the server will come take your order.  Meanwhile you can watch the ocean and be entertained by the roosters, chickens and other birds that visit the area.  They have a number of options but are primarily known for their lobster pizza or lobster salad on honey butter biscuits.  We chose the latter but did not sample the menu further.  Service was efficient and the view was nice.  The food was interesting but once was enough for me. Continue reading

Latitudes, Key West, 1/26/22

exterior

Latitudes is Sunset Key Cottage’s signature restaurant – a 7 minute boat ride from Key West.   The boat ride is available about every 30 minutes and once there you have a choice of “island cuisine” in the interior Ernest Hemingway Room or al fresco on the huge grounds, both overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the lighted palm trees.  Your reservation time is the same as your ferry time and parking is available for guests at their sister property Opal Key West Resort (remember to bring your ticket for the restaurant to validate).  It is a large place but reservations are a must and need to be made several months ahead for dinner.  The place has an elegant feel and great service but people were dressed fairly casually.  The view in the daytime is said to be wonderful but I enjoyed the lighted trees. Continue reading

Nancy’s Hustle, Houston, 12/24/21

exterior

Nancy’s Hustle opened in late 2017 on the east side of Houston and was named in Esquire’s list of “Best New Restaurants of 2018”.  It continues to garner awards and accolades.  The small innovative menu offers lots of small plates that are meant to be shared.  It’s a long space but most of the front part is taken up with a long bar that has seating.  The back end of the space is all small tables with a door that leads to the large patio outside. Lights are lowered and there is music in the background. Service was friendly and helpful with pacing good but reservations appeared to be a must, as it’s very popular.  We were lucky to be there with friends and got to sample a number of things.  Go if you can, it’s very good. Continue reading

The Antler Room, Kansas City, 12/8/21

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The Antler Room was opened five years ago by Chef Nicholas Goellner and Leslie Newsam Goellner after many years of training and work in other establishments including Noma in Copenhagen.  It is a small 2 room place with one room serving as mostly a bar and pass-through window from the kitchen and the other filled with small tables for 2.  A long bench seat runs along the wall that ends in a huge window to the street.  Music is in the background, lights are lowered, the floor is tile, art is on the walls and exposed ductwork lines the high ceiling.  Parking is wherever you can get it along the street.  The name was a spur of the minute decision by the owners but now many donated antlers provide decoration, especially above the bar.  Service was friendly but know your entire order needs to be placed at the beginning of service.  The food was pretty good, interesting combinations and well flavored.  Continue reading

Story Hill BKC, Milwaukee, 12/3/21

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Story Hill BKC (Bottle, Kitchen, Cocktail/Cup) is a medium sized wine and spirit shop that also serves upper-midwest inspired cuisine in brunch, lunch and dinner formats.   Lunch is a smaller menu but gave us a good idea of what they are capable of producing – and it’s a good pronouncement for those who are around Milwaukee.  There is a small parking lot behind and lots of street parking around this corner spot.  Music is in the background and lots of windows let in much natural light.  On one side of the room is the retail shop with wine, spirits and beers for sale.  You can also purchase a wine to drink with your meal there for a small corkage fee.  The bare blond wood table was nice sized and set with a cloth napkin.  Two daily specials were listed on the menu.  Service was friendly and very helpful. Continue reading

Le Diplomate, Washington DC, 11/21/21

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Le Diplomate is built in the image of a Parisian brasserie serving classic dishes in a well restored corner building.  It is a large place (300 seats) with a huge ‘enclosed’ garden room seating area on the sidewalk and unsheltered tables on the other sidewalk.  Inside you’ll find a combination of tables and bench seating and free standing small tables.  There is not much distance between them.  The red upholstery is dotted with brass as are the railings on the few stairs between levels, the columns are lit from within and the ceiling is high.  Windows are on 2 sides of the room and there may have been music in the background but it was hard to tell over the hum of the crowd.  Paper covers the wood table tops but it is set with a cloth napkin.  It’s been here 9 years and really popular so reservations are in order.  Service was reasonable but not overly friendly. Continue reading

Little Fox, St. Louis, 11/17/21

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Little Fox is a medium sized place with brick walls, lower lights, wood decorations and music in the background where you are given 2 hours to complete your reservation.  This might be due to the increased popularity since the restaurant was listed in the The New York Times article on the Restaurants for 2021 to be excited about.  Lucky as they opened in Dec. 2019 just before the pandemic closed many places and they had to adapt business to new restrictions.  Now the kitchen is on one end of the room and plexiglas dividers are between each table even though the use a shared bench for one side’s seating.  Along the opposite wall are more small lightwood tables that also accommodate 2 people.  There is a full bar in the other room and tables are set with cloth napkins.  It is a small menu of mostly small plates that sound more interesting than they are. Continue reading

Lazy Betty, Atlanta, 11/10/21

Lazy Betty delivers a world-class menu prepared by Chefs Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillips.  Chef Hsu formally was with Le Bernardin as the Executive Sous Chef and then Creative Director, but ultimately is the product of a family all about food, particularly his mother Betty.  He and Phillips opened Lazy Betty in October of 2019, offering only a tasting menu. The interior is designed to relax the diner, to feel lazy and comfortable.  It is a fairly large space beginning with a good sized porch area attached to the larger dining area by an open kitchen with bar stools and tables across for it.  If you are able to go try and get one of the counter seats where you can interact with the staff and watch your meal being made.  Lowered lighting, music and lots of liquor choices all add to the experience.  There is ample parking out front and they offer only a 6 or 8 course tasting menu with optional wine pairings.  The 2 tastings have some different dishes as well as a few overlaps.  This place comes with my highest recommendation to give it a try. Continue reading

Lyla Lila, Atlanta, 11/9/21

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Lyla Lila opened in Nov. of 2019 and serves southern European cuisine in Midtown Atlanta.  It sits on a corner with windows on two sides in the Lilli tower, right down the street from the Fox Theater.  There is no dedicated parking area, so you hunt for spaces on the street.  Chef-partner Craig Richards daughter’s name is Lyla and his partner in the restaurant, Billy Streck’s daughter’s middle name is Lila, so they forged the 2, to name the restaurant.  The large bar area is where you enter and people do eat at the bar.  In the dining room music is in the background and the lights are lowered.  The menu changes with the seasons and while they wanted your whole order at the beginning they were willing to course it out and split items.  Some couch like seats were at the tables around the wall and the interior bare wood tables with chairs were quite small.  Tables are close enough that you can easily make friends with those adjacent and we did visit with another couple celebrating their first anniversary there.  The wine list was mostly Italian with a few French and Spanish options and chef is known for his pastas.  Service was slow and uneven. Continue reading

Victory Sandwich Bar, Atlanta, 11/9/21

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Victory Sandwich Bar was located near Inman Park and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.  It offered a large covered porch, inside seating and a backyard patio filled with picnic tables, each having a dog bowl at the end.  Music from inside blended into the outside.  Inside was booth seating, high top tables and a long bar where you place your order.  You are given a number after you pay and then they bring it to your table.  The sandwiches are small but only cost $5 each.  They have a full bar but are known for their Whiskey Coke Slushie, made with Jack Daniel’s and Coke, which come in 2 sizes.  You get those when you finish placing your order so you can work on it while your sandwich is made.  They are just like the frozen drinks from convenience stores but these have that whiskey twist.  It’s a fun drink but you still have to be careful to avoid a ‘brain freeze or cold headache’.  It’s a  pretty place to sit and prices are reasonable but the food didn’t wow me. Continue reading

National Anthem, Dallas, 11/4/21

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National Anthem, Nick Badovinus’ (Town Hearth, Neighborhood Services) latest restaurant, opened Oct.6.  It’s in the 100 year old triangular shaped building on the east side of downtown, almost to Deep Ellum.  There is street parking and valet and it’s a lot like Badovinus’ other places – noisy, heavily decorated and serving good food.  His concept is to further develop the floor above and the rooftop into other restaurants.  Here you enter into the bar area with a few high top tables and stools around the u-shaped bar.  Then you pass into the main dining room which has a combination of booths and tables and a long open window into the kitchen.  There are tons of people working – providing good service, but between the TVs, windows to the street and various decorations there’s a lot of eye distractions.  The large menu includes everything from raw oysters to prime steak and there are a few daily specials.  It’s worth going to. Continue reading

Beckley 1115 , Dallas, 10/30/21

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Beckley 1115, a wine bar and casual restaurant, opened in early October this year by longtime chef Sharon Van Meter.  Van Meter currently also works with an event space at Trinity Groves and previously served as chef at Neiman Marcus downtown and later as executive chef.  Her inspiration here was to create something welcoming, casual and affordable and I think she has done just that.  There are lots of tables outside, an adjacent parking lot and a nice bar inside as well as tables.  Frankie and I caught up with a friend there and they were happy to have us sit and visit for several hours and kept the coffee coming during a Saturday brunch.  They also offer dinner and lunch and I took pictures of the menus for you.  I look forward to going back and trying more of her dishes and visiting with all the friendly service people. Continue reading

P.S. Steak, Minneapolis, 10/9/21

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P.S. Steak opened in 2019, an elegant steakhouse to add to the Minneapolis meat options.  Located in a classic building the dining room is dark with lots of brown leather in the roomy booths (now separated by plexiglass too) and dark walls decorated with mirrors and prints.  One wall has the refrigerated cases housing the aging meats, all prime cuts or better.  As you enter to your side is the large modern looking bar where customers can eat as well as drink.  The dining room is further down the hall with a much more clubby feel, with no music in the background.  The menu is mostly steaks but a number of potato choices are there as well as vegetables and seafood.  The one area it fell very short was in our server who really got up on the wrong side of the bed.  She poured the wine with no tasting, repeatedly asked about ordering appetizers, chastised us for ordering too many desserts.  It was surreal, as every other person who attended our table was friendly and pleasant.  I tried to not let it spoil a fun evening. Continue reading

Sleder’s Family Tavern, Traverse City, 10/2/21

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Sleder’s Family Tavern, in Slabtown, is Michigan’s oldest continuously-operated restaurant. It began when a Bohemian immigrant named Vencil Sleder wanted to build a tavern where men could relax after work.  Louie Sleder (1909-1993) and his mother turned the place into a ‘good will’ business.  Prior to 1930 women weren’t allowed in the barroom with its 21 foot solid mahogany sided and cherry wood bar and 12 foot ornate stamped tin ceiling, so they entered through a special back room door.  After 1930 they opened up both rooms to all.  It was sold in 1975 to the Classens who re-finished the woodwork and added a Victorian-styled side porch that is popular for private parties.  It was sold again in 1992 to the Cairns who held their own wedding there and now their son and daugther- in-law own it.  Numerous hunting trophies line the wall, in particular the moose named Randolph that you kiss for good luck.  The history in the place is amazing but the food is good too. Continue reading

Trattoria Stella, Traverse City, 9/30/21

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Trattoria Stella opened in 2004 in the basement of a refurbished and re-purposed mental hospital.  An upscale restaurant, it offers a farm to table concept with Italian overtones through a changing menu supplemented with daily specials offered.  The kitchen makes pasta, bread and cheese and a full bar is available.  The large place has lots of brick arches and cozy spots with lowered lighting throughout.  The white cloth covered tables are nicely sized and set with black napkins with music in the background.  They have a large wine list with lots of local wines.  We ordered some of their nightly specials for our meal. Continue reading

Rye, Dallas, 9/12/21

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Rye opened in McKinney in 2018 and the owners, Tanner Agar, Nic Cain and Executive Chef Taylor Rause, decided to open a second location in Dallas, which happened on August 25, 2021.  The menu stresses small plates to share, filled with dishes prepared from local sources, as much as possible.  They also have a large bar offering lots of cocktails and of course rye.  Next door they have a bar called Apothecary where you can wait for your table in a darker, cozy setting.  Rye is a medium sized long room with small bare wood tables – some paired with benches along the wall, lots of plants, music in the background, mirrors and frames decorate the walls and lowered but fairly bright lighting.  The server told us that the kitchen prefers to have the whole order placed at one time and then the kitchen will portion out the plates so you are not overwhelmed.  The server was helpful in determining just how much to order.  It’s a fun place with an adventurous and flavor filled menu that I look forward to getting back to. Continue reading

The Black Sheep, Buffalo, 9/3/21

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The Black Sheep is a long space with a bar in the space out front and patio outback.  The lighting is lowered, music is loud, art for sale is on the walls, wooden benches line the wall to match up with small wood tables, walls are brick and votives are on the table.  It is a farm-to-table concept with a small menu of interesting items that is supplemented by a daily list of specials.  The bar serves up modern and classic cocktails as well as beer and wine.  The owners are James Beard nominated chefs Steven and Ellen Gedra, with Ellen being the baker and pastry chef.  The chefs prefer a farm-to-table approach and have learned the value of selecting the proper ingredients and then handing them with care.  It’s a small but inventive menu of small and large plates supplemented by interesting specials.  It was a tasty meal filled with flavors with a little twist to the ordinary. Continue reading

Hutch’s Restaurant, Buffalo, 9/2/21

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Hutch’s Restaurant has been serving fine cuisine to folks in Buffalo for over 25 years. They call it “an American take on the French Bistro”.  Named for chef/owner Mark Hutchinson it closed a year ago for a renovation that was to be in stages but instead was done all at once while the restaurant was closed 144 days for Covid.  They were able to double the capacity of the old Floristry building to accommodate 100 socially distanced diners (probably 175 post-Covid) and expand outdoor seating to 20 people.  Today the large restaurant has several rooms with brick walls, carpeting, low lighting, loud music, art on the walls, votive candles on the tables and a large window looking into the kitchen where you could easily spot Hutchinson.  Sound panels on the ceiling helped with the noise level cause it was filled to capacity and buzzing with people celebrating an occasion or closing a business deal.  In addition to the menu they had a large list of daily specials.  Service was slow but in their defense many restaurant workers have not returned to work, but this would be a good job to land in that line of work. Continue reading

Gabriel’s Gate Restaurant, Buffalo, 9/2/21

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Gabriel’s Gate has been around for 50 years, located in one of the original Tift Row Homes built in 1864 in the Allentown District.  Inside it’s a mix of antique and hunting lodge.  Between the various objects, old wood booths, tin ceiling, lowered lighting, music in the background and stuffed heads it’s worth going to just to look around.  The large bar in the back room is solidly covered with decorations.  There is a patio when weather permits and fireplaces when it doesn’t.  But they are also a local favorite for Buffalo wings.  However, service is a huge issue and really slow. Continue reading