Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lasst uns froh und munter sein

Rheinland Restaurant

Like many Americans, some of my ancestors were German. When I was little we went to a church founded by German immigrants and every spring they had the Wurstmarkt, a sausage supper featuring German food, including the requisite bratwurst, sauerkraut and apple strudel. As such, German cuisine has a special place in my heart.

Last week a co-worker of mine mentioned a German restaurant in Independence, known as the Rheinland. I don't generally make the trip to Independence, but for real German food, I would make an exception. On Saturday night, my lovely wife Natasha and I met some friends there to enjoy a meal.

Immediately, I was smitten by the charm of the place. Run by a German couple, the wood paneling and simple decor of the place oozed with German charm (is that an oxymoron?). Having made reservations, we were immediately shown to our table and allowed to peruse the menu. Service was quick, and a charming woman (I'm assuming one of the owners, due to her accent) took our drink orders. And of course what would a German meal be without beer? Offering a small, but excellent selection, I opted for the Spaten Optimator, while Natasha had the Spaten Lager. We both decided on the Mass size, which in case you were unaware, means 1 liter of beer. This might seem expensive at $9 until you realize the sheer amount of beer that is one liter. And you need it to wash down the large-portioned entrees.

For mains, I had the veal Zigeunerschnitzel, or Gypsy schnitzel. Consisting of lightly-breaded veal (pork was also an option) topped with a spicy pepper sauce, the flavors reminded me a lot of Eastern European cuisine (which is to be expected). Natasha went with the Jagerschnitzel, which is essentially the same, only topped with a mushroom cream sauce. Both came with the choice of home fries or a homemade pasta known as spätzle. As we traded halfway through our meal, I went with the fries, and Natasha had the spätzle. For dessert, we split the apple strudel a la mode.

Everything was delicious. Perhaps it isn't the healthiest food on the planet, but it is very tasty. I particularly liked the spätzle, and have been researching recipes for it, though our waitress told me it's a bit of a hassle to make.

The proprietor checked on us as our meal was wrapping up, a nice touch, and we enjoyed a two-piece band, consisting of acoustic guitar and auto-harp, while we ate. Though they were literally right next to us, the volume was perfect. We could hear the Christmas carols they played, yet still converse with our dinner partners.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Rheinlander. As I said, I rarely go to Independence, but the next time I do, I'll be sure to visit this charming German restaurant again.


Rheinland on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 7, 2009

An odd combination

When I get the mail, the Valpak coupons go straight in the trash without so much as a glance. When my wife gets the mail, she sorts through it for deals, especially on new restaurants she'd like to try. This is how we discovered Tannah's at 5041 W. 135th St. in Leawood.

A recently opened place in a developing neighborhood, Tannah's offers a Sunday brunch buffet from 10-2 for $12 (no coupon needed). Always up for a good Sunday morning meal, we made the trek down to Oklahoma South Leawood around 11 AM to try the place out.

Though we had their ad, we weren't really sure what type of food to expect from Tannah's. Though there was a mention of won tons, I didn't think that it would be an Asian breakfast buffet, because that would be strange, right? I was wrong.

When we first entered, it became clear that this was a pan-Asian place. The hostess, a high school-aged girl showed us to a table (it was only moderately busy, the mega-church next door not having let out yet), and gave us a slip to fill out for omelets, which were made to order.

We filled out the slips, selecting ingredients from the dozen-or-so listed, and waited for our waiter to take our drink order. Apparently he was on a smoke break, because it took several minutes before another server came over and asked what we wanted to drink, taking our omelet orders and telling us to help ourselves to the buffet.

The buffet was extremely well run, with a dedicated server, plus at least two runners. As we approached, he pulled the lids from the chafing dishes, ensuring that the food stayed hot. Overall, it looked very attractive, as did the restaurant in general.

Starting off was salad, which I skipped, then breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, french toast, biscuits and gravy and potato skillets. I had a little of everything. Further down the buffet was the Asian cuisine. Featuring Mongolian beef, lo mein, and a variety of other options, it was thankfully not the same Sysco-distributed crap you see at other Chinese buffets, but apparently home-made food. And best of all (at least for my wife), the buffet also featured a chocolate fountain with a variety of fruits, cakes and marshmallows to dip in it.

Retreating back to our table, one thing soon became clear: this is an Asian restaurant, not a breakfast place. While all of the breakfast food was mediocre at best, the Asian cuisine was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the kung pao chicken, the pork sambal and the Schezuan chicken wings. They were all extremely delicious. Those foods with sauces had just the right amount, not swimming in it, like they are in most Asian places.

I went back for seconds. After my second plate, which is really my limit these days, our omelets finally arrived. I can't put my finger on why, but there was something I didn't like about this omelet. My wife agreed. Maybe it was the fact that I was already full, but there was a definitely odd flavor about it. Of course it didn't help that the salsa it was topped with (at my direction via the order slip) was clearly Pace or something similar, fresh from the jar.

I picked at this just a little before taking advantage of the chocolate fountain. The chocolate was awesome, and went very well with my coffee, which was a good quality brew, clearly not Folgers. Parfaits were also available for dessert, but neither I, nor my wife tried them.

Overall, I think I would definitely be willing to eat at Tannah's again, though probably not the brunch buffet, as breakfast food and Asian is just too odd of a combination. Clearly this place is working through a lot of the opening kinks, i.e., slow service, but the Asian food is really quite good, on par with any of the big name Chinese joints in Kansas City, including Bo Ling's or PF Chang's.


Tannahs Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Love the music not the food

A few months back, The DLC detailed his lunchtime trip to The Recordbar at 102o Westport Road. A few weeks back my wife and I were attending a Sunday night show there and decided to pre-buy our tickets, lest Mumiy Troll sold out. As we entered the place around 12:30 that Sunday, there was a sign out front proclaiming their "Famous Brunch". On the strength of the DLC's review, we decided this would be a good place to eat.

Now maybe their normal, workday lunch is superior to their brunch, but I found the entire experience average on the whole. First of all, there's something seedy about being in a bar during daylight hours. The scarred floors and obscene graffiti lack any sense of charm in the harsh, unforgiving illumination of sun light. But nevertheless, I like The Recordbar based on great past concert experiences, so it's easy to forgive this deficiency.

The brunch menu choices were few, but I decided I would have the Reuben (the greatest of all sandwiches), while my lovely wife Natasha had the smoked salmon bagel. Our server was very attentive, but of course, we were one of three parties in the place at the time.

In short enough order, our food came out. Natasha's bagel was actually quite good. With a healthy portion of smoked fish atop a toasted bagel, it was not bad at all. The accompanying potatoes were okay, as was the fruit salad, but what do you expect from a few grapes and pineapple chunks?

As for my Reuben, I was actually a little disappointed. The corned beef was sliced too thick, and irregularly at that, and the bread was a little mushy, not toasted like I prefer. As for the fries it was served with, they may have been good when they were fresh, but they had clearly been sitting for a while, and as a result, had become soggy. The flavor was okay, but overall, it was not something I'd be interested in having again.

With that said, they get extra points for having Cholula hot sauce. I like hot sauce on my fries and entirely too many establishments have only Tabasco, which I don't really care for.

In summation, while The Recordbar is a great place to see a show, I can't really vouch for their food. I may have just caught them on an off day, especially based on other reviews I've read. Overall, however, I'm sure I'll be back for another show, but not sure I'll be eating there.


Record Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just okay French


My wife and I recently celebrated our fourth anniversary. It has become something of a tradition for us to go to a nice restaurant and celebrate. Last year we went to Tatsu's and had a fantastic meal. This year we thought we would try Julian's which opened in the space where Joe D's was formerly. Unfortunately, as they don't take reservations, we faced a 45 minute wait. Unwilling to sit at their bar this long, we opted for our backup plan, Aixois, at 251 E 55th.

We had tried to eat at Aixois, a charming little bistro in Brookside several times previously, but never had good timing. As both Natasha and I are huge fans of French cuisine, we expected good things. With a good menu featuring a variety of French classics, as well as daily specials, we thought we had found a winner.

Our server was charming and helped us select a nice white Bordeaux, while offering us crusty baguette slices and an excellent butter to tease our appetites.

We both started with cups of French onion soup, which was good, but not great. Topped with a fantastic Gruyere, it had good flavor, though was a bit sweet for my tastes. Natasha agreed.

As it was our anniversary, we also had appetizers in addition to soup. Natasha had the pan-seared foie gras, served with a shiitake and truffle salad and apple sauce (puree, to you foodiots). While it was cooked extremely well, I found the delicate taste of the foie gras overwhelmed by the pungent flavor of the truffles. It was good, but perhaps would have fared better with a less obtrusive side.

For me, I had Mussels Rouquefort, a dish I had never had before. Taking the blame entirely upon myself for my dislike, I hated this. It's always a bit of a risk to order a dish you know nothing about, and sometimes it doesn't work out. This was one of those instances. Consisting of mussels cooked in Rocquefort cream, I did not realize the strong bovine odor that this dish would offer. From what I have read, this is how it is supposed to both smell and taste, but it did not suit me. Through no fault of the chef's, I will never order this again.

For mains, Natasha had the rack of lamb, while I had the daily special of duck breast. Mine was served at the ideal temperature, with the color pink you expect from duck breast. It had an excellent flavor, but I was a bit disappointed that the skin was not more crispy. Additionally, as this was an airline breast, I had a leg with a bone. Though I was offered a steak knife, I found this insufficient to release the meat from the bone without a great struggle.

Natasha was actually quite upset with her entree. While her rack of lamb was beautifully prepared, frenced nicely and cooked perfectly, she felt it was terribly under-seasoned. Both mains came with a good mashed potato, boiled, yet tasty carrots and broccoli, and a pan sauce.

Overall, I thought everything was okay. Good, not great, especially considering our $100+ bill. Natasha was much more upset by the dinner than I was. Having been wowed by Tatsu's last anniversary, and Oak 63 earlier this year, Aixois proved to be a bit of a disappointment to her.

While I would like to go back and try their bistro burger and pommes frites, I fear I may have a hard time convincing Natasha to make the trip.

(FYI - I have decided to stop scoring restaurants)


Aixois on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Finally, a pizza chain that doesn't suck

Wheat State Pizza

I don't care for most pizza chains. Some of them I downright despise. Domino's, Godfather's and Papa John's are all garbage in my opinion. My wife is of similar opinion. With this mind-state, it's sometimes a challenge to find a pizza place, particularly since Papa Keno's had their little problem with the taxman.

Yesterday, I finally found a place. After hanging out with some friends, I realized the prospect of going home and cooking a meal sounded unappealing. Then I noticed a Wheat State Pizza menu on their fridge. I'd had Wheat State a few times before, usually at corporate lunch-type things, which means I had only had it at lukewarm temperatures. It had been good, as I recalled, but I decided I'd like to try it hot and fresh. With this in mind, I gave the Wheat State at 8039 Santa Fe in old Overland Park a call.

They've got a good menu at Wheat State, with lots of topping choices and several tasty-sounding specialty pies. I opted for the Chicken Carbanara, one of the specialty pizzas consisting of alfredo sauce, chicken, fresh mushrooms, bacon and extra cheese. I also choose the hand-tossed wheat crust. Sounds good, right?

Approximately two minutes after I placed my order, my phone rang. It was Wheat State, they'd run out of chicken, but would be happy to substitute any other topping, and give me a free side. Pleased with this brave show of initiative often rare in the restaurant industry, I decided Italian sausage would be a nice substitution. As for the side, how could I pass up free hot wings?

The pizza was ready on time, exactly on the 20 minutes they promised, and when I got home it was still steaming hot, as were the wings. Those wings were okay, nothing spectacular, but not bad at all. As for the pizza, both Natasha and I agreed, it was delicious. The flavors of the toppings paired nicely with the creaminess of the alfredo, all of which were offset by the slightly sweet taste of the crust. And best of all, the pizza had plenty of cheese.

I liked everything about it. In fact, the only strike I'll offer against the place is that they have weird hours for a pizza joint, closing at 8:30 or something odd like that. I will definitely eat this pizza again, though next time I think I may go for the Hawk n' Cheese, the Strangler or the Mediterranean, all of which sound delicious.


Wheat State Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Good with a shot of vodka

Piroshky Bakery

Believe it or not, I know a thing or two about Russian food. Having spent close to a year in eastern Ukraine and in fact, marrying a Ukrainian devochka, I'm far more familiar with this type of cuisine than many of my American counterparts.

With that said, you know I had to try Piroshky Bakery on my trip to Seattle. Okay, it was Natasha's idea to visit this place at 1908 Pike, but nonetheless, I wasn't going to miss out on it.

This place is well-known, and it's with good reason that people line up on Saturday mornings to get a taste of their famous Russian pastries. They offer a good selection of pastries, both sweet and savory, but Natasha and I opted for one piroshky with smoked salmon pate (it's the Pacific Northwest, after all) and one with a more traditional potato and onion filling.

The salmon was awesome. Freshly made, it was hot and delicious. I especially liked how the bottom of the pastry was made to look like a fish tail.

The potato-onion one wasn't as tasty, but then what do you expect from boiled potatoes? I liked this place a lot. Natasha enjoyed it as well, but having eaten this type of cuisine all her life, shrugged and said "tastes like piroshky". (That's a sign of authentication from her)

Overall, the location is awesome and the food is well worth trying. Especially if you're unfamiliar with Russian or Ukrainian cuisine, it's a nice introduction. If you're ever in Seattle and want a little nosh, Piroshky Bakery is a good place to get something a bit out of the ordinary. And to be truly authentic, wash it down with a shot of homemade vodka


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“That is risotto”

Salty's on Alki

Last weekend in Seattle I had a meal that dollar-for-dollar was the worst value of my entire life. It was at a place called Salty’s at 1936 Harbor Ave SW in Alki Beach, and quite honestly, I wish I had eaten at McDonald’s.

Salty’s has a great location. Located right on the water in Pudget Sound, it has an amazing view and seems like an awesome restaurant. Unfortunately, it is not. The first sign that this place wasn’t a winner was the dinner music. A trio of smarmy-looking d-bags was set up in the dining room playing some cacophonous attempt at music, attempting to fuse 1930s jazz with the barbershop quartet sound, and succeeding only in ruining both of them.

Sign number two that this wasn’t a very good restaurant, almost nothing on the menu sounded appetizing. At prices ranging from $25 to $50 for an entrée, it seems like they would have had a range of delicious dishes to choose from. I couldn’t seem to find anything. Eventually I settled on the dinner special (ironically called the blue plate), which our server told us was blackened salmon on risotto with a local fruit and vegetable pico de gallo. Natasha had a halibut dish with crab, asparagus and mashed potatoes topped with a béarnaise sauce. Our friend Sherry, with whom we were dining, opted for cedar-smoked coho salmon, while her husband Craig had a bowl of gazpacho and the crab and spinach dip. For an appetizer we split an order of fried oysters.

While the oysters were okay, the highlight of the meal was the complimentary breads. The whole-grain bread and seeded crackers served with herb butter were delicious. Outside of a decent beer selection, this is really the only positive thing I have to say about the place.

The portion size of all the entrees was small, especially considering the price. While Natasha’s dish was okay, it wasn’t spectacular and surely not worth the $35 it cost. Sherry’s dish was the same. Craig had little to say about his gazpacho but didn’t care for the crap and spinach dip. Especially since it was supposed to come with house-made crackers, and instead came with ones that surely came out of a bag.

But my meal was the real loser of the group. While the salmon was well cooked and the pico de gallo was decent, it was served on sticky rice rather than risotto. When I pointed this out to our waiter he said “That is risotto. Sticky rice is risotto.” He then blamed the mistake on the kitchen, though a manager later confirmed it was his mistake. While I know anyone can make a mistake, there is a huge difference between risotto and sticky rice, I would have ordered a different dish had I realized it came with plain rice.

Overall, our waiter was a large part of the problem. Having been a server myself, I try not to be too hard on them, but this guy was brutal. While he was friendly enough, he screwed up the special, tried to take Sherry’s drink before she was done with it and then avoided us at all costs once he realized we were unhappy with our meal. We had to go so far as to ask one of the managers for our tab, as he walked by our table with his eyes averted. Really there’s no excuse for this kind of service, especially at these prices. In fact, had this been a less expensive place, I probably could have overlooked some of the sub-par aspects of the dinner. However, when you’re shelling out more than $100 on a dinner for two, you tend to expect a good, if not great meal.

In closing, I recommend anyone who reads this post avoid Salty’s like the plague. While it has an amazing view, the mediocre food and crappy service do not justify the cost at all.

    Food: 1
    Atmosphere: 2
    Service: 1
    Menu: 1
    Price: 1
    Total: 6
    Average: 1.2

Salty's on Alki on Urbanspoon