30. January 2010 20:52
At first glance Urban Belly appears like the Corner Bakery of rice and noodles: underserved and overpriced but that's mostly because they make you pay the bill before first bite. It was well worth the $50/2.
For those whose dining world is contained in a 1mi^2 radius from the loop, a journey to 3000s north and west had better mean cheap. Especially for rice and noodles. Overcharge the roundeyes on our own turf but if we travel we expect savings. So when we forked over nearly 50 bucks before taking a single bite and got a deli-style number to stand up at the table, we were naturally concerned. We certainly weren’t at Arun’s. Thank the sun god that the concern wasn’t warranted.
The fried rice must be fried in cream because every gooey mouthful dissolves in the acidic moisture of your tongue and leaves a buttery residue as it slithers down your throat. The best $7 cup of rice I’ve had since Hakkasan. Is it me or is rice a lot more expensive since they mapped its genome and found it more complex than the human? The fowl and fungus dumplings taste almost as good outside as they do inside which rarely happens outside a bakery and the vegetarian Asian Egg noodles are pan-fried before they are immersed giving them that crispy texture on every 4th noodle. The Udon, however, is more like pho with big fat noodles since all the floating fat is still doing backstrokes in my fourth stomach chamber. Chef Kim: you’re supposed to throw away the first batch of broth after you cook your scrapple in it. Besides, where does coriander/sweet chili/lime broth get fat from anyway? I thought Udon broth was clear. Anyway, despite the fact that there was enough cumulative garlic in our dishes to smell back home the food was really pretty good. Even 3 hours later if you catch my draft.
Finally, even though all you social creatures love it, I HATE communal seating. This is why we went at 11AM when no one else was there. If others were, I’m not sure where we would have parked given that 99% of the strip-mall parking seems to be reserved for the laundromat next door. Maybe they have valet. The tables are made of some pretty impressive wood though. The little stools are made of the same and are so heavy that had I done shrugs yesterday, I would have needed help sliding in.
Finally, finally: Dear Chef, unlike aircrafts, mooses, deers and fishes, I’m pretty sure “rices” is not a proper plural. Let’s check that before reprinting the next batch of menus.
25. January 2010 20:04
Who charges $14 for the “house” pinot? $16 for three pieces of grilled octopus? $18 for a single crab leg? 3 infuriating dollars for 2 ounces of horseradish? The same people who bring out desserts we didn’t order and then charge for them.
Seated 15 minutes late for a 9:30 reservation, we knew that things could have been worse. The bar was packed and the staff had trouble navigating since management thinks patrons shelling out $13.25 for a half-filled martini would appreciate having none of the precious liquid spilled en route and asks the hosts to carry drinks up on a tray. This multiplies seating time by 3X.
We took our time deciding which was no problem at all since our server, Tony, was without a doubt one of the best waiters to ever work in a new and trendy restaurant. He suggested when we needed, pushed items but not too far and delivered nothing but courteous assistance to what would have otherwise simply been a price-abusive dinner. He also never let a drink go empty and never took one away with anything left in it.
Main courses for the evening were mostly good: Smoked Rib Eye, NY Strip, great: Sea Bass and not acceptable for the price: Yellowfin Tuna. Overall, the entire meal was unacceptably overpriced with little dings to insult even the most extravagant of diners. Charging $3 for a bottle-cap of horseradish when the steaks are already in the 40s is abuse of a high order. $18 for a single crab leg cut in two is nothing short of gouging and $14 for the “house” wine is just comical. Dear management: This isn’t a resort. You have not a captive clientele.
But a manager did seem to care enough to make his rounds at the tables and we told him the truth. We also complimented the waiter as is our practice when deserved. He said he understood. To our delight, out come 2 excellent desserts: a crème brulee and a chocolate/hazelnut ice cream. How about that? The floor manager truly heard what we had to say and was trying to make the pain of Epic pricing hurt a little less. A+ for service – I thought. It was not until the following day that I stood corrected. There, on the bill, were two $10 charges for each of our “free” desserts. Nicely done gentlemen. I’m sure a lot of people won’t ever notice.
Dear Management, a restaurant isn’t an airline serving a unique route and although it may be tempting to invent charges for condiments and coat checks there are 10 thousand places downtown that don’t and never will. They can expect our speedy return whereas you, alas, cannot. Just please don’t charge us a non-returning customer fee.
9. January 2010 19:18
On the menu at ShowPlace Icon were 2 pizzas, 2 sandwiches, 3 appetizers and 3 dimensions of Avatar. The food was good, solid bar-food. And the film was good, solid Cameron excrement. Since the movie was a part of the experience, I cannot properly review the evening without casting some stones.
One of the reasons brew and view is best at bars is because theaters are set up for serial entry and exit, not constant movement. But ShowPlace Icon does the best job it can with its handicap. We dined and took our drinks into the spacious VIP lounge-seating. There was unanimous consent about the pizza but disagreement about Panini. I must report that I liked everything even though half of our party found themselves underwhelmed by the sandwiches. Clearly their expectations were higher than mine. My half of a prosciutto Panini and pizza was better than anything I’ve had at Corner Bakery and for about the same price. Indeed, I was fully expecting the traditional movie theater price-goatse. Personal pizza for $20, amateur martini for $18, soggy fries for $10. You can imagine my surprise when the martini cost $10 and the house-wine $5! None of the entrees were anything out of the neighborhood’s typical price-range. Even the parking was free! For a bar that’s still trying to get its bearings, the table-service was quite efficient. I just cannot complain even though I want to. About the food that is. The movie…
How many times have we seen Avatar? Evil white man rapes and pillages poor defenseless natives until a converted white man sees the light and turns against his people and saves the savages. At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Emerald Forest, Farewell to the King and even Pocahontas are all DVDs that were At Play in the House of the King (of the world) when he was generating this latest turdlet in his titanic arsenal. But inspiration is one thing. A simple search-and-replace job like with say, oh, I dunno: Dances with Wolves is a whole other matter. I’m not sure about you, but if I handed in Avatar to any of my English profs I would have been expelled for plagiarism. And for using low-caste Hindi words in titles. I guess Kings have a double-standard.
I don’t give a flying rhino about the CGI if the material beneath is a decaying heap of bleeding-hearts and neither should you. If it’s CGI you want go play a 3D video game. With the action all your own, you’re at least guaranteed originality. And if you need to feel guilt about something why not start with the fact that the countless upcoming cults and Facebook pages dedicated to Na’vi and arguments over whether Optimus Prime would be able to take Jake Sully will all be at the expense of doing something useful.
So, with all due haste, go see something at ShowPlace Icon. Just not Avatar. And don’t drink so much that you’ll have to hit the can 5 times during the film and have the irritated sober people try to trip you on your way. But if you do make it, be sure to take off the 3D glasses first. They don’t have the effect you hope for.
9. January 2010 02:14
For the first time in Bandera’s history, we were served by someone whose opening remark was not “Have you dined with us before?” It could have been all downhill from there.
Many ghosts-of-business-past haunt Bandera’s space and we were certain Bandera would soon be just another apparition. Had we known they had Hillstone Restaurant Group’s money behind it we would not have been so cavalier with the predictions. But financial security has a price and as any seasoned diner will attest, chains like HRG, Grand Lux and McCormick and Schmick have a rigid, corporate feel that removes the distinction from even the wait staff’s appearance and personality. Having worked a block away and eaten at Bandera over 50 times I find it uncanny that I have never had the same server more than once and yet never has the experience deviated in so much as a single variable right down to the opening question. Except today.
Naturally, we wondered what else would be different. The menu was the same. The “soup” was still chicken chili which was not as spicy as we remembered but still delicious. The Veggie Burger was still the same outstanding mish-mash of guilt-free garden gunk that happens to be the best such mess in the city. Even the half-chicken which is the best item on the menu is still there having increased only $1 in 6 years to a budget-bursting $16. I figure that’s an inflation-adjusted 10 bucks. Even ordering it with all white-meat does not incur additional cost (as it does at sister restaurant Houston’s). However, they will get this wrong almost 25% of the time through either waiter omission or kitchen illiteracy. So how does Bandera remain so inexpensive?
We’ve already established that the restaurant must turn-over all of its staff every month or so. Bad even by food-service standards. HRG must really squeeze the hell out of its employees. And today, unlike most work lunches, we ordered drinks. A Bloody Mary costs $9 and contains little more than 2 shots of liquid. The Mimosa contains ice and mostly orange juice but was served in a huge wine glass. Ice with Champagne? Who’s idea was that? Just serve it in a normal flute and skip the fillers.
In all, Bandera is a fine restaurant with a great view of the avenue below it. The food is far better than it needs to be for the price and unless you’re trying to get drunk the meal won’t cost you much. Just be careful asking the staff robots to deviate from script because such curveballs will almost always guarantee a wait.