Report Card: Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo on Urbanspoon

http://www.bucadibeppo.com/

 

Report Card: Buca di Beppo

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B-: We like Buca di Beppo. It’s close to home and it’s a really great place to meet a bunch of friends for dinner. But if we’re looking at the place objectively, it’s a bit of a mess on the inside. On the outside, Buca di Beppo looks a bit like a cross between a restaurant and a big, red barn. On the inside, expect some cheesy Italian music over the speakers and wall décor that looks like it might have come from the mind of someone in a full-blown manic state. There are tons of pictures and other wall decorations, as well as some rather dorky Italian-looking props. Sometimes, the hostess will take you back through the kitchen on your way to your seat, which is kind of neat. We would also suggest tying a string to the front door and unspooling it as you’re shown to your seat – the interior is like a maze. We’d have for anyone to become MIA trying to find their way back from the bathroom.

High marks: Big, clean, potential brief tour of the kitchen

Low marks: Confusing layout, seizure inducing wall decor

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Service: Grade B: We’ve been to Buca di Beppo a few times, and historically the service is always good. Because food is served family style, the restaurant lends itself better to large parties instead of just a couple of people eating together. This is probably why we wouldn’t call the service amazing, since servers are usually trying to juggle the needs of large parties. That being said, there was nothing wrong with the service. Our server, Dani, did a nice job taking care of us, but the service was fairly formal and stiff. She did spend an extra couple of minutes showing Katina some of the advanced features on her novelty glass that came with her peach bellini. When we visited, there were hardly any other diners there, so there should have been a real opportunity to engage us, but other than the glass tutorial, the service was pretty forgetful. It is important to mention that the silverware might possibly have been the dirtiest eating utensils we’ve ever received at a restaurant, and it took a little too long for our first drinks to arrive, which prevented Buca from scoring higher in this category.

High marks: Solid service

Low marks:   A little stiff and formal considering the environment, filthy silverware

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: We started off with calamari, which was good. The size of the rings were perfect and cooked nice and crispy. The calamari came with a fairly spicy dipping sauce compared to other calamari we’ve sampled. Katina ordered a peach bellini which came in a ridiculous novelty glass (or cup, since it was plastic), but the drink itself was okay. I opted for a Sam Adams because like most Italian restaurants I’ve visited, the beer selection at Buca di Beppo is a little sparse. For our entrée, we ordered a dish called Quattro al Forno. The food at Buca di Beppo is served family style, and for those of you not familiar with that term, it means that the dishes are designed to be shared by multiple people. So if you visit, make sure you’re going with someone who you can agree with on your entrée. We ordered the Quattro al Forno because it was composed of samples of four other dishes: cheese manicotti, cheese ravioli, stuffed shells, and chicken cannelloni. The cheese ravioli was pretty bland, but the cheese manicotti and stuffed shells more than made up for it. The cheese manicotti was simply delicious, and the stuffed shells had just a bit of a spicy kick to them. The chicken cannelloni was also quite tasty, and the dish was perfect for the indecisive diner. We thought the portion size was a little small for a dish meant to be shared. We took a pepperoni pizza home for our daughter. The pizza was covered with salami sized pepperoni, and it was good, but nothing special.

High marks: Good calamari, tasty chicken cannelloni, stuffed shells, and cheese manicotti          

Low marks: Anemic beer selection, bland cheese ravioli, ordinary pizza

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Value: Grade C-: Buca di Beppo has changed their menu to allow you to order portion sizes for just a couple of people, or for a group of people. However, I am not sure the pricing has been adjusted for just a couple of people. A fairly simple pepperoni pizza for $17.99 (that’s for a small) seemed a little steep considering the pizza wasn’t a blockbuster. For an appetizer, a couple of drinks, and an entrée you’re going to drop north of $50 to $60, and that seems a little steep considering the portion size of the dish we selected. Quality was really good, but just south of excellent. Buca di Beppo is definitely a place everyone should try, but we think it would be more enjoyable for a large group of people or family members (somewhere in the range of 4 to 8 people).

High marks: Novelty aspect to dining experience great for a group

Low marks: Portion size a little small for price and overpriced pizza

 

Report Card: El Vaquero

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El Vaquero Mexican on Urbanspoon

http://www.vaquerorestaurant.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade B 

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B: Believe it or not, I didn’t even have to get out the calculator to figure out the average grade for El Vaquero. The atmosphere at El Vaquero was alright. The restaurant was clean, and completely devoid of any popular North American sporting events on TV. Sorry, but I just can’t get into soccer. But, the lack of sporting entertainment just allowed me to focus on my lovely wife. El Vaquero wasn’t real busy on the evening we visited, so the place was pretty quiet. Sure, there was some Mexican music playing in the background, but it wasn’t so loud that it was annoying. This particular El Vaquero is in a strip mall (just like Chile Verde), and we are noticing the décor usually suffers because of this. The décor at El Vaquero wasn’t bad, just a little uninspiring.

High marks: Clean, fairly quiet

Low marks: Uninspiring decor

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Service: Grade B: Our server, Omar, did a really nice job. Sure, the was the requisite language barrier that we seem to experience at all the Mexican eateries that we visit, but we understood each other enough that Omar was able to make some jokes, including trying to pawn a second margarita off on us. He kept our salsa dishes full and our chip baskets overflowing with fresh chips. Again, like most other Mexican restaurants, the wait for our entrees was almost non-existent. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for Omar to “wow” us, and our dinner needs were pretty straight-forward.

High marks: Fast, friendly service

Low marks:   Simple demands didn’t allow server much opportunity to impress

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: I bet you can’t guess what we ordered to drink. Well, if you did guess margaritas, either you’re lucky or you’ve read this blog before. The margaritas at El Vaquero were tasty, but there was no hint of tequila in the taste, so we were a little suspicious of their strength. We also chowed down on chips and salsa, and while the chips were nice and fresh, the salsa was serviceable but not overly impressive. It did have a bit of a kick, but otherwise it wasn’t very memorable. For entrees, Katina ordered the Chimichanga Suprema and I ordered the Nachos Supreme. The chimichanga was cooked nicely and stuffed full of all the ingredients that the menu advertised. It was simple, but very tasty. The nachos, on the other hand, were a bit of a mess. I always forget to ask for light lettuce when I visit an “authentic” Mexican restaurant. Evidently, real Mexicans must really like lettuce, because all of the dishes I’ve ordered at “authentic” Mexican restaurants are buried under a ton of lettuce. I like lettuce…kinda…but I don’t want it to be the main ingredient in any of my dishes (unless I’ve ordered a salad). The nachos were covered in a ton of lettuce (no surprise) and there was a pool of some liquid (it wasn’t cheese as much as a cheese/water mix) that made all of the chips soggy. You’re definitely going to want to pass on the nachos. El Vaquero gets a “B” because the nachos were technically an appetizer, and the entrée they served was actually pretty good.

High marks: Decent (if not weak) margaritas, good chimichanga              

Low marks: Nachos left a lot to be desired

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Value: Grade B: We didn’t take any doggy bags home, but we weren’t hungry when we left, either. Nachos aside, the food was pretty good quality, the price was really reasonable, and portion size was good. El Vaquero doesn’t really outshine any of the competition, but it holds its own. We recommend it for a nice change of pace.

High marks: Decent quality, decent portion size, decent price

Low marks: Doesn’t really stand out

 

 

Report Card: Chile Verde

Chile Verde near Polaris

Chile Verde near Polaris

Chile Verde Cafe on Urbanspoon

http://chileverdecafe.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade B

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B: We hit up our nearest Chile Verde for lunch a few weeks ago. Since we weren’t there during peak hours, it’s a little hard to judge on atmosphere. The place was exceptionally clean and quiet, and table spacing was a non-issue since there were only a couple other patrons in the restaurant. The outside décor is pretty bland, but the particular Chile Verde is located in a strip mall, so the outside of the building is probably always going to be fairly bland. Although it was clean on the inside, it was also fairly boring. But let’s face it, if you’re eating at Chile Verde, that means you’re probably tired of Taco Bell but don’t want to spring for the upscale atmosphere of a Cantina Laredo. That’s cool. Chile Verde seems comfortable in its own skin and isn’t trying to fool anyone with flashy décor.

High marks: Quiet and clean

Low marks: Inside and outside décor fairly bland

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Service: Grade B: As with most of our experiences with Mexican themed restaurants, we had a bit of a language barrier with our server. But, he still did a really nice job of looking after us. As with other Mexican restaurants, our food was ready in a matter of minutes. Margaritas came quickly, and once they were drained the server was quick to offer a refill (we declined – it was a little too early to tie one on). We received fresh chips and salsa after a really short wait once we finished off the first batch. Overall, service was really solid, but just not spectacular.

High marks: Friendly, quick service

Low marks:   Slight language issues, nothing spectacular

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Food/Spirits: Grade B+: After devouring a couple baskets of tortilla chips and a half gallon of salsa, which was pretty good but we have had better chips and salsa, we both decided on fajitas for lunch. However, we both started off with margaritas before we dug in to our fajitas. Katina ordered a raspberry margarita and I selected a strawberry margarita (I know…real butch, right?). Both margaritas were extremely flavorable with nary a hint of tequila taste. Yum yum! Katina ordered the chicken fajitas and I ordered the steak fajitas. Now, those of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed that I rarely get anything chicken based except for the occasional order of chicken wings. You all may be wondering why I generally shun chicken, so I am going to tell you. Chickens are absolutely one of the filthiest animals on the planet. Eww! It doesn’t seem to bother Katina, though. She eat almost anything with chicken in it. Now the fajitas at Chile Verde are very good. Our favorite part was the amount of meat that came with the meal. My experience with fajitas is that generally you get a few morsels of meat and a ton of veggies. That always seemed out of balance to us. The fajitas at Chile Verde were quite different. Oh, there were veggies, but there was also lots of meat. And, the veggies and cheese were mixed together, so it was easy to maintain the balance of the dish. If you grabbed a handful of cheese, you invariably got a handful of peppers and onions to go with it. We were quite impressed with the fajitas at Chile Verde.

Now, it’s time for us to get something off of our chest. As we previously mentioned, Katina had a raspberry margarita and I had a strawberry one. Big whoop, right? Well, the following weekend, our 12 year old daughter informed us what they use to maintain and enhance those artificial fruit flavors. If you’re a die-hard raspberry or strawberry fan, stop reading here. For the rest of you, just be aware that those artificial flavors are enhanced by an extract from a beaver’s anal gland. At first, we thought it was just raspberry flavoring, which was fine with me because I didn’t have a raspberry margarita. Plus, I could always use this knowledge to embarrass Katina at a later date. But, further investigation showed that the beaver butt juice can also be used for strawberry flavor. Gross, right. I think from this point on, I will stick to traditionally flavored margaritas (unless I find a banana one – those are pretty damn rare).

High marks: Fantastic fajitas    

Low marks: Nothing special about the chips and salsa, beaver butt juice

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Value: Grade B+: We ate pretty well and didn’t spend too much money. Portion size seemed pretty good, although it’s a little hard to tell when you order fajitas – you usually don’t take fajitas home in a doggy bag. Quality actually exceeded our expectations. We would definitely recommend a visit to Chile Verde.

High marks: Good quality, decent portion size

Low marks: Hard to judge portion size with fajitas – one of us should have gotten a burrito

 

 

 

 

Report Card: The Capital Grille

The Capital Grille -- if you see this sign, turn around and keep walking

The Capital Grille — if you see this sign, turn around and keep walking

Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

https://www.thecapitalgrille.com/

 

Report Card: The Capital Grill

 

Overall GrubGrade C

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B+: From the outside and inside, it appeared like we were going to have a dining experience at The Capital Grille that was well worth the wait and anticipation. The décor on the inside was contemporary and clean, and the muted lighting and music created a really nice atmosphere. The Capital Grille appears like it would be a nice place to take a date or celebrate an anniversary. We had called for reservations, and the earliest we could get was 8:15pm Saturday evening. We arrived at around 8:10pm and the place was pretty hopping. We checked in with the hostess to find out that there would be a wait for our table, so we nabbed a table in the bar area, and buckled in for our long trip into disappointment.

High marks: Clean, contemporary, romantic atmosphere

Low marks: Busy, table not ready

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Service: Grade C-: So, when we tweet this review out, if someone from The Capital Grille happens to read it, let us offer this piece of friendly advice: look up the word “reservation” in the dictionary. We thought we were in some bizzaro episode of Seinfeld when we told the hostess we had a reservation and they told us we’d have to wait for a table to open up. You see, that’s what the reservation was for. There should have been a table set aside for us. If we wanted to wait, we would have skipped the reservation. That was completely ridiculous. Oh, we can see giving our table to someone who is waiting if we arrived late, but we’re awesome and that’s why we got there at least 5 minutes early. We waited at a cramped little table by the bar, and we were ½ hour into our meal before the hostess came to take us to our table (which, by the way, we had asked our server to cancel – oops). That means our table wasn’t ready until 8:45pm. I can promise you, had we not already started our meal at our little cramped bar table, I would have verbally eviscerated the hostess staff. That behavior is completely unacceptable for an upscale restaurant. We elected to stay at our little bar table because the server we started with did such a pleasant job in getting our meal started and recommending our first drinks. However, after the first round, we got a new server, who we’ll just call C. Service stayed pretty good for a few more minutes until C got another couple of tables sat in his section, then it completely fell apart. There were really lengthy waits between courses and it took forever to get a drink refill. Requests had to be repeated on a couple of occasions. This type of service wouldn’t be acceptable at Applebees, and we certainly shouldn’t be paying a premium price for service. This grade would have been “F” except for the service during the first 10 minutes.

High marks: The first 10 minutes

Low marks:   Everything but the first 10 minutes

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Food/Spirits: Grade C+: With respect to food, there were some really nice things that The Capital Grille did well. Katina stated with a drink called The Bohemian, which had a raspberry and peach flavor to it. There was definitely more emphasis on the raspberry than the peach, but the drink was really tasty. I started with a Stoli Doli, which was a drink make with chilled, pineapple infused Stoli. It was smooth with the perfect amount of pineapple. Katina ordered the Lobster Mac and Cheese, which is technically a side dish. So she supplemented with a crock of French Onion Soup. Our server warned her that the portion size on the crock was pretty large, then elaborated by using his hands to pantomime a crock that is pretty much the exact same size as every other crock of French Onion Soup she’s had. What came out, however, was this massive bowl of soup. Flavor-wise, Katina says it was good but not the best French Onion Soup she’s had. As for the Lobster Mac and Cheese, we were skeptical since our server really talked it up like it was the cat’s pajamas. You see, Katina’s had the Lobster Mac and Cheese at Eddie Merlot’s, and if their Lobster Mac and Cheese is a Mercedes, then the Lobster Mac and Cheese at The Capital Grille was a Yugo. The cheese sauce was too runny and there were only a few large chunks of lobster in the dish. This same dish could have been pulled off with a little bit of lobster and a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It’s not even in the same ball park as the Mac and Cheese at Eddie Merlot’s. I ordered the Rib Lamb Chops with the porcini rub. The taste was a little overwhelming at first, but after the first few bites I really started to enjoy them. Overall, it was pretty good performance on the lamb, but for $46, the word “pretty” should not be in the description. We also tried the Adults Only Arnold Palmer, which tasted like watered down iced tea, and the Mojito de Uvas. I ordered two of these mojitos, because the addition of the green grapes made this the best mojito I’ve had – just the right amount of sweetness with no alcohol bite. So, I had to order a second one, which was just a glass of ice with two swallows of mojito in it. The difference between the two is inexplicable. And, at $13 per drink, shafting me with a large glass of ice really irritated me.

High marks: Good lamb, great tasting mojito, tasty drinks           

Low marks: Inaccurate size description on soup, amateur Lobster Mac and Cheese, bar served up expensive glasses of ice

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Value: Grade F: Let me see…quality far below expectations…check. Horrendous service…check. How much would you pay for this package? If you guessed anything below $165, then you’re off. Not only was our bill ridiculous based on service and quality, The Capital Grille also overcharged my credit card (it wasn’t by much, and honestly a bowl full of 12 turds isn’t much different than a bowl full of 10 of them, is it?). We recommend you walk right on by if you’re in the neighborhood.

High marks: There’s not one of these in Columbus

Low marks: Overpriced and underperformed

 

 

Progress Report: Six Penn Kitchen

Six Penn Kitchen -- Downtown Pittsburgh

Six Penn Kitchen — Downtown Pittsburgh

It’s been 10 months since we last visited Six Penn Kitchen, so we figured it was time to pop back in for a visit.  Actually, we didn’t plan on visiting Six Penn Kitchen on this trip to Pittsburgh, but the St. Patrick’s Day festivities really jacked our plans up.  Some of the establishments we wanted to visit on this trip were located right in the crotch of the celebration, so we had to adapt on the fly.

But that’s okay.  Because, sometimes when we write one of these report cards, we wonder if what we experienced on that visit is the norm or did we catch the restaurant on a particularly bad (or good) day.  We can attest that some of the restaurants in Columbus can provide almost opposite eating experiences on different visits.  So, on Saturday, when we found ourselves downtown after the show was finished and needing to kill some time, Six Penn Kitchen was one of our options.

After our first visit (which we enjoyed), we knew what to expect.  We were interested to see if Six Penn Kitchen could pull off another good performance.  When we arrived, there were no tables available, but the upstairs bar had a table free so we snagged it.  Again, let me state that we usually do not do the whole “table in the bar area” thing because we do grade on service, and most of the time service at those tables is subpar (because usually the bartender is doing double duty by having to wait on those tables).   However, we were pleasantly surprised by a nice service.  We had reservations for another establishment for later in the evening, so we were just at Six Penn to snack and get our booze on.  We weren’t real demanding, but we did make our server do a little bit of running, which they did expertly.

So, to be honest, I am a little confused while I am writing this post.  I am fairly certain that our server was a dude, but the name on our receipt say our server’s name was Courtney.  So, either I was completely hammered (nah) or I have completely lost my ability to identify gender by appearance OR (and I hope this is the correct one) the name is either wrong or we did have a female server at least once during our stay and maybe I just didn’t notice.  We had the same pretzel bites that we had as an appetizer on our last visit, and they were just as tasty (and ugly) as they were the last time.   Katina snagged a Six Penn sangria, which she very much enjoyed, and I had a few beers that were old hat and quite tasty.  As you’ll read in a few days, we probably should have just stayed at Six Penn, because our next stop was quite the let down.  But the take home message is that it appears that Six Penn Kitchen consistently delivers good service, tasty food, and yummy drinks.  We still highly recommend it.

Report Card: The Tap Room

Inside the Tap Room

Inside the Tap Room

The Tap Room on Urbanspoon http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/PittsburghWilliamPenn/Dining.aspx (click on links to get to menu)

 

Overall GrubGrade B  

 

The Breakdown:   Atmosphere: Grade B: Initially, The Tap Room wasn’t even on our radar for this visit to Pittsburgh. But all hell broke loose thanks to St. Patrick, so our visit was initially one of convenience. The Tap Room is located inside the Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, and since that was the hotel we were staying at, we gave them a shot. There’s really not much of an outside, but inside the place was nicely decorated but a touch small. We not really sure what to expect since we usually do not visit the restaurants/bars in the hotels where we stay. The Tap Room was clean but busy both times we visited (once in the evening for drinks, and again for lunch the following day since the parade derailed our initial lunch plans).   Thankfully, the tables were nicely spaced, so it didn’t feel like you were sitting in your neighbor’s lap. But it was fairly noisy, and The Tap Room probably isn’t the place to take your partner for some quiet, romantic interaction.

High marks: Clean, nice décor, nicely spaced tables

Low marks: Small and noisy …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B-: If we were grading the service for the night we visited (for drinks and wings), we would probably give our server (Christine) an A-.   She did a fantastic job considering we pretty sure she was tending the bar as well as acting as our server. Our second visit, however, wasn’t nearly as nice with regard to service. On our lunch visit, The Tap Room was packed with would-be parade goers, and it didn’t seem like our server (Leslie) handled it too well. We would probably give that service a grade of C+. So, we averaged the two grades out. There was minimal wait for drinks and food on our evening visit, and some waiting and second or third requests for items on our lunch visit.

High marks: Really good service on first visit

Low marks:   Not so good service the second time around …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade A-: The Tap Room has some yummy drinks. They aren’t cheap, but they don’t taste cheap either. After some regular beers (Blue Moon and Straub), we decided to give some of the cocktails a whirl (the kids were back in Columbus, so it’s okay). First, let me say that I thought Straub beer was horrible. Yech! I had to try a couple of The Tap Room’s “beer cocktails.’ First up was something called a Yinz Beer, which was a mixture of Yuengling, gin, and lime. Think Yuengling meets a bottle of Sprite. Not too bad and really interesting to drink something beer flavored that has that hard carbonation like a soda. Next, I tried the Orange Moon, which was a mixture of Blue Moon, vodka, orange juice, triple sec, and cardomom. This concoction tasted pretty much like a regular Blue Moon with an extra kick and a more citrusy note at the end. Katina ordered a drink called a blackberry whiskey sour, which tasted exactly like the name would suggest – a whiskey sour with blackberry flavor. That’s a rather simplistic description, but I tasted the drink too and I can affirm that it was delicious, and I’m not a huge fan of whiskey sours. We also ordered some crispy Cajun Ranch buffalo wings because we’re responsible enough to not drink on empty stomachs (at least I told my conscious that was the reason). These wings were tasty, and they were cooked crispy, which is how Katina loves them. This is the second “bar” we’ve found serving really fantastic wings (much better than the wing places we’ve visited). Crispy wings seem to be the new “in” thing, and we are not going to complain. Hopefully, the rest of the wing nation will see the light and join the movement. For lunch, we both ordered the Fish and Chips. I asked for the house made chips instead of fries, and our server still brought me fries. Oh, I got my damned chips, but not until I had to ask for them again. The fish was really good, but the tartar sauce that came with them was not good. The tartar sauce had a brown sugary taste to it, and tartar sauce is busy enough without inviting more ingredients to the party.

High marks: Good drinks (although expensive), good wings and fish     

Low marks: Weird tartar sauce, had to nearly sell my soul to get my chips …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade C: The Tap Room must cater to the wealthy alcoholic. Drinks and wings on the first visit cost us about $100 (including tip)….YIKES! I’ve spent all day in a bar during football season (when the wife’s out of town) and haven’t come near dropping a Benjamin on booze in one visit.   To say The Tap Room’s drinks are expensive is a bit of an understatement, but you can’t deny they are delicious and interesting. If you’re drinking on a budget, snag some PBR and have at it, but stay away from The Tap Room – it is not where you belong. But, you might as well give it a shot if you’re in the neighborhood.

High marks: High quality drinks

Low marks: Not for the stingy

Report Card: Villa Reale Pizzeria

Villa Reale Pizzeria

Villa Reale Pizzeria

Villa Reale Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
http://villarealepizza.com/

Overall GrubGrade B-

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere:  Grade C:  We selected Villa Reale Pizzeria because we wanted something simple that would be hard to mess up, especially after that debacle on our trip into the city (you remember…7 miles in 2 hours!)  So, we dialed up Villa Reale’s number (metaphorically) since it was a short distance from our hotel.  We arrived fairly late in the evening on Friday, so we were a little shocked when we walked in.  First, the pizzeria seems to be connected to a bar (unless the bar is part of the restaurant…we couldn’t tell).  The pizzeria had two groups dining, us and a really large, loud crowd of apparently drunk folks.  But there seemed to be a ton of people in the adjoining bar.  The restaurant was clad in really cheesy Italian décor, and the tone of the experience was set when we first walked in and had to ask the lone guy behind the pizza counter if we were supposed to seat ourselves since we were otherwise ignored.  The place was clean, but that’s not a real surprise since the place didn’t look visited too often.  We settled into our booth and braced for the worst.

High marks:  Clean

Low marks:  Loud and cheesy

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Service:  Grade C:  As you can tell from the lack of hostess, or interest from any of the employees, that the service at Villa Reale was second to none (you might not catch the sarcasm in the written words).  After we sat ourselves in one of the many empty booths, we proceeded to wait…and wait…and wait.  After about 10 minutes, we started to pack up and put on our coats to relocate (we’d had a rough trip thus far, and just were not in the mood).  That was when the lone pie slinger ran to the bar next door and gathered up our server, who must not have liked being interrupted doing body shots to serve us poor tourists.  She gathered our drinks and brought us our pizza with minimal interaction, and she just seemed to be waiting for us to leave so she could return next door.  Not impressive at all.

High marks:  Accurate

Low marks:   Poor attitude, unfriendly, slow

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Food/Spirits:  Grade B:   After our harrowing journey and ridiculous initial wait time, we eventually got to order some drinks and a pizza.  Katina ordered some moscato (from Riunite, no less) and I settled on a very large Blue Moon (I wanted no surprises).  Both drinks were serviceable, but nothing special.  We ordered a medium pizza with sausage and pepperoni.  The pizza was pretty good, and Villa Reale has the largest medium pizza we have ever seen (easily as big as most pizzeria’s large pizzas).  Since we are looking ultimately for good food but want our readers to know about the entire experience, we  give the Food grade the most weight when calculating the overall grade.  So Villa Reale gets an overall grade of B- because the pizza was actually decent and portion size was very generous, but don’t be fooled into thinking we actually liked the place.

High marks:  Pretty tasty pizza, very generous size          

Low marks:   Limited drink selection, nothing top shelf

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Value:  Grade A:  With food quality being decent and portion size being quite generous, we were forced to give Villa Reale a good grade for value.  Couple that with the fact we had a few cheap drinks, we made it out of Villa Reale without too much damage to our bank accounts.

High marks:   Portion size, decent quality

Low marks:   We can think of a number of places with better pizza

Report Card: FlipSide

FlipSide

FlipSide

Flip Side on Urbanspoon

http://www.flipsideburger.com/

Overall GrubGrade A

 

Atmosphere:  Grade A:  You might be able to guess what type of restaurant FlipSide is by the name, but certainly not from the outside of the building.  Inside, however, we found the place to be quite clean and very bar-like in its vibe.  FlipSide just  gave off that nice, easy feel that you get from your favorite local watering hole.  It was a little noisy and reasonably crowded considering we were there at around 1:00pm on a Friday.  Thankfully, there’s some decent space between tables, so the noise wasn’t too bad, but I can’t imagine how loud it gets at around 5pm on Fridays.

High marks:  Clean, simple décor, relaxed vibe

Low marks:   A little noisy

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Service:  Grade A:  We had a wonderful server named Eric.  Since we were first timers, Eric took a moment and explained how the menu worked.  Drinks and food all came out in a reasonable amount of time.  Eric was very engaging and knowledgeable and really friendly.   This is an example of how dinner service should be done (in a week or two, we’re going to give you an example of the exact opposite).  I have seen some other reviews of FlipSide where the service did not get any compliments, but we have nothing but positive things to say about the staff at FlipSide.

High marks:  Friendly, quick service

Low marks:   Nothing

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Food/Spirits:  Grade A:  Since we had a 3 hour drive ahead of us, we had to keep it under control with respect to our grown-up drinks.  Katina ordered a Blueberry Lemonade, which tasted pretty much exactly like the name suggests it would.  I ordered a New Holland Dragon’s Milk, which tastes like the heavenly offspring of Guinness and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale…all the flavor of the Bourbon Barrel Ale with the color and texture of a Guinness.  For an appetizer, we ordered the chili cheese fries.  These turned out to be much tastier than they appeared.  The cheese sauce was thinner than the sauce that’s usually on chili cheese fries.  Initially this concerned us, but it turns out the thinner sauce allowed for more complete coverage of the fries, so every bite had chili and cheese unlike most other chili cheese fries where the cheese is only on the top portion of the fries.  They turned out to be the some of the best chili cheese fries we’ve tried.  For her burger, Katina ordered the FlipSide Burger and I ordered the Smokey Burger.  The FlipSide Burger comes with aged cheddar and apple wood smoked bacon (which Katina always removes and gives to me – she super finicky about how her bacon is cooked.  She calls it extra crispy, but most of the rest of humanity would call it burnt).  Add balsamic vinegar and red onions and you’ve just about hit all of Katina’s favorite burger toppings.  The Smokey Burger comes topped with beef brisket, smoked gouda, jalapenos and BBQ sauce (and thanks to Katina, apple wood smoked bacon).  The burgers were excellent, and cooked perfectly.  Our medium well done burgers had just a ribbon of pink in the center, exactly as they should.  We were both very impressed with the quality.  It is also worthy of note that you can get any burger with chicken, turkey, or bison substituted for beef.  We also split a side of mac and cheese with bbq beef brisket added.  It was really excellent – in fact, I might drool on the keyboard just reliving the experience.  We’ve had this incarnation of mac and cheese at a few places, and it has always impressed us.  More restaurants should offer this version of mac and cheese as a side.

High marks:  Good drinks, perfectly prepared burgers, excellent cheese fries and mac and cheese          

Low marks:   Had to restrict drinking, couldn’t return the following day for a repeat visit since we were going out of town

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Value:  Grade B:  The only reason FlipSide doesn’t get an A in this category is that our bill was a little high considering we were eating burgers.  Portion size was adequate.  However, we want that to in no way discourage you from stopping by if you haven’t yet.  Again, that’s why the value category carries the least amount of weight in the calculation of the overall grade.  Frankly, a lot of times the old adage that “you get what you pay for” actually turns out to be true.  This was one of those times.  Bravo FlipSide…what a nice way to kick off our little trip.

High marks:   Excellent quality, decent portion size

Low marks:   A little pricey

Black and Yellow (pt 2) and Green?

About 10 months ago, Katina and I found an occasion to visit the wonderful city of Pittsburgh, Pa.  We were so surprisingly impressed with the quality of the food at some of the downtown eateries that we earmarked the city for a revisit.  Well, we returned from that revisit, and what an adventure.

The journey there was treacherous, with one particular frustrating 7 mile segment that took a whopping 2 hours to traverse (I though a stroke was imminent).  And we happened to pick St. Patrick’s Day weekend to visit, and unbeknownst to us, St. Patty’s Day is a pretty big thing in Pittsburgh, with a big parade and scores of drunken revelers of questionable Irish descent.

Join us for the next couple of weeks as we walk you through the new (to us) eating establishments we visited on our 2nd visit to Pittsburgh.  We’ll start with Flipside, which is a burger joint located here in Columbus (we stopped on our way out of town) and you can accompany us on our visits to Villa Reale Pizzeria, The Tap Room,  a quick revisit to Six Penn Kitchen, and our final stop at The Capital Grille.

Report Card: P.F. Changs

P.F. Chang's

P.F. Chang’s

P.F. Chang's China Bistro on Urbanspoon

http://www.pfchangs.com/index.aspx

Overall GrubGrade B

 

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere:  Grade C:  P.F. Chang’s presents itself as an upscale Chinese restaurant.  The dining area is very open and gives the impression of being quite large.  The décor is definitely Asian in nature, but with a minimalist flair that doesn’t beat you over the head.  On the Friday we visited, P.F. Chang’s was pretty busy.  It was a little noisy and pretty crowded.  After a brief 15 to 20 minute wait, we were shown to our table.  Unfortunately, someone should have shown our table first to the cleaning staff.  Katina’s seat was filthy, which forced us to sit at the adjacent table.  Glassware was apparently clean, but silverware was disgustingly dirty.  We have enough common sense to realize that in some of these busy establishments, an occasional dirty fork is going to make it to the table.  In this case, however, Katina’s fork had a huge foreign substance adhered to it that only a blind person could miss.  It was really quite gross, and it made us second guess the cleanliness of the rest of our dinnerware.

High marks:  Upscale, open design

Low marks:   Unforgivingly dirty, noisy

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Service:  Grade B+:  Our server, Robert, quickly removed the offending fork and fetched us a clean one.  The rest of the service was accurate and fairly quick.  We waited a little bit for food, but nothing out of the ordinary, except I thought the wait for our entrees was a little excessive (I was also starving, and was eyeing slow moving patrons as possible food). There was nothing either positively or negatively remarkable about the service — a nice, solid showing by the wait staff.

High marks:  Friendly, accurate

Low marks:   Unremarkable

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Food/Spirits:  Grade B:  We have eaten at P.F. Chang’s a dozen times or so.  One of the reasons we are repeat customers is their wok seared lamb, which is an absolute fantastic dish.  The big problem on this visit is that it has been removed from the menu.  Boo!  For drinks, Katina ordered a Chang’s Mai Tai, which was heavy on the pineapple flavor.  That being said, the drink wasn’t as strong as most of the mai tai’s we had nor was it as sweet as we expected.  I ordered a Yuzu Ginger Mojito, which tasted like a normal mojito mixed with Sprite.  It felt carbonated and busy in my mouth, and Katina described it as “twangy” (and no, that doesn’t mean it sounded like it came from Kentucky).  For an appetizer, we ordered Dynamite Shrimp, which was lightly breaded and tossed in a sauce that had a little heat but not as much as the name of the dish might suggest.  Katina ordered Firecracker Chicken for her entrée.  There was virtually no heat to the dish unless you took a bite that included one of the few peppers contained in the dish.  It was pretty underwhelming.  I ordered the Pepper Steak, which was cooked okay but I found the meat to be a little tough.  The sauce it came in was flavorful but not hot at all, and the veggies could have been cut into smaller pieces.  The highlight of the meal was the Spicy Green Beans that we had ordered as a side, which were a little spicy but had big flavor.

High marks:  Interesting mojito, tasty green beans         

Low marks:   Lackluster performance on entrees

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Value:  Grade B:  Dinner wasn’t overly expensive, which was good because we probably would have felt cheated it our check came out to $100.  While fans of Chinese cuisine should obviously give P.F. Chang’s a try based on our past experience, this experience will make us second guess our next visit.  Portion size was okay, but we certainly didn’t need to take any food home.  We didn’t leave hungry, either.

High marks:   Adequate portion size, reasonable price

Low marks:   Quality not on par with past visits, no doggie bags needed

Pop Quiz #9 Answer

The spicy heat of a chili pepper

chili peppers

chili peppers

The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present.  Capsaicin should be an ingredient to you athletes and arthritis sufferers — it is the ingredient in most muscle and pain relieving creams that make those products feel hot on the skin.  Many hot sauces use their Scoville rating in advertising as a selling point. The scale is named after its creator, American chemist Wilbur Scoville, who developed the scale in 1912. Pure capsaicin is rated highest at 15-16 million units while the bell pepper is at 0.  What the scale does not measure, however, is a person’s sensitivity to capsaicin.  Check out the Wikipedia article on the Scoville scale to see where your favorite pepper falls on the spectrum.

Food Fact and Pop Quiz #9

Food Fact:

Not all flavors of Jell-O that have been proposed have been commercial successes.  Here are the five Jell-O flavors that flopped: celery, coffee, cola, apple, and chocolate.  Now, I can’t imagine why celery wasn’t a huge hit.

Pop Quiz #9

If you have a sensitive stomach, then you should be well-versed with the Scoville scale. What does it measure?  (This should be a pretty easy one for you college aged gents).

Report Card: Polaris Grill

Polaris Grill

Polaris Grill

Polaris Grill on Urbanspoon

http://polarisgrill.com/

Overall GrubGrade B-

 

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere:  Grade B:  We were admittedly a little flummoxed by the atmosphere at Polaris Grill.  We had stopped by for a lunch service, and the place was doing brisk business.  The crowd appeared to be on the older side, which was a little surprising.  Polaris Grill had nice table spacing and it wasn’t too loud, although there was some background noise.  Décor, both inside and outside, is nice but uninspiring.  We were expecting a slightly more upscale feel, but that wasn’t the case.  We’re not sure if that’s because we’ve been to so many really nice places, or if Polaris Grill is on the downslide.

High marks:  Clean, well-spaced dining area

Low marks:   Slightly noisy, not as upscale as expected

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Service:  Grade B:  Our server was energetic and friendly.  Plus, service was accurate and timely.  There was just absolutely nothing memorable about the service.  Our server did comment that we both made good choices on our entrees, but we would honestly be shocked if we ordered a dish and our server confided that the selected dish was basically low grade dog food.  Not that we wouldn’t appreciate that level of honesty, but we can’t imagine a server holding their job for too long with that amount of honesty.  Again, we walked in feeling like we were about to have an upscale experience but got more of a TGIFridays type of experience.  The grade of “B” is because there were no glaring issues with the service, but even that grade may be a little generous.

High marks:  Accurate and timely

Low marks:   Not memorable at all

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Food/Spirits:  Grade B-:  Think of some of your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants.  Got ‘em?  Okay, no imagine instead of your favorite eatery supplying the food, your crazy grandma with the hairy chin mole cooks them instead.  Granny may know her way around the kitchen, but you know it just isn’t going to be as good.  That sums up Polaris Grill.  The food is good, just not as good as a lot of other places.  We ordered the Cajun shrimp for an appetizer.  It was somewhat similar to Bang Bang Shrimp (from Bonefish Grill) but not nearly as good.  The sauce had more sweet than heat, which was okay but just didn’t come off as too Cajun.  For her entrée, Katina ordered the NY style pizza.  It was simple and basic.  The pizza needed more sauce and for that sauce to be a little less bland than the one that was on the pizza.  You could get a much better pizza at Winking Lizard.  I settled on the jambalaya.  Overall, the dish was decent.  The flavor was pretty mild for jambalaya, with the sauce having virtually no heat to it.  Also, I like my veggies in my jambalaya to be a little more finely diced than the boulder sized ingredients in the jambalaya at Polaris Grill.  The ingredients were also out of balance, with an overabundance of celery and onions and almost no peppers.

High marks:  All the dishes were okay   

Low marks:  None of the dishes were spectacular

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Value:  Grade C+:  We didn’t have to skip paying any of our monthly bills after eating at Polaris Grill, but the value grade here is more indicative of a lack of the premium quality one would expect with the size of our lunch bill.  Maybe it was an off day.  While we aren’t comfortable advising you to skip Polaris Grill, there are a whole bunch of better places to eat right in the same area, so dine at your own discretion.

High marks:   Decent portion size

Low marks:   Sub-premium quality for a slightly premium price

World Beer Tour 2014 — Part 2

Well, February has come and gone, and there weren’t too many highlights for the month.  The weather here in Ohio was quite crappy, but that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Thankfully, the nearest Winking Lizard is only a hop, skip, and a jump from the homestead.  That gave me plenty of excuse to work on my world beer tour, and with the help of my unofficial manager, Katina, we are going to add another 8 beers to our list, bringing our grand total to 24.

Aventinus

Aventinus

Aventinus (ABV 8) — This beer is an example of a Weizenbock.  I am a huge fan of wheat beers, but Aventinus is a unique example because it shuns all of the traditional characteristics of a normal wheat beer.  This beer is nice and dark instead of golden, and there was no fruity notes as one would expect with a wheat beer.  But, Aventinus is an experience, and I found it to be unique and quite tasty.  Just be forewarned if you think “weizen” is going to get you a traditional wheat beer — don’t forget the “bock” part of the name.

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Unibroue La Fin du Monde (ABV 9) — This example of a Tripel is thick and golden.  I found it to be very tart and fruity.  There was some hoppiness, but not enough to dominate the overall flavor of the beer.  This beer is really good.  It is very smooth and its tartness is a nice change of pace without being overwhelmingly sweet.  I highly recommend this beer if you haven’t tried one yet.

Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Stout

Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Stout

Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Stout (ABV 6.9) – This Imperial Stout pours nice and dark with a thick golden head.  There were distinct chocolate and vanilla aromas as well as those same taste notes.  This beer isn’t quite as thick as I expected, but that did not detract from the overall superior flavor of the beer.  The bourbon barrel notes are not quite as prominent as some other bourbon barrel stouts, but were still present enough to add a little something to the overall flavor of the beer.

Thirsty Dog Bernese

Thirsty Dog Bernese

Thirsty Dog Bernese (ABV 10.5) — If you order this barleywine, brace yourself.  It is very strong, and it is hoppy, hoppy, hoppy, hoppy, and also a little hoppy.  Instead of a barleywine, I thought I might have been poured a glass of whiskey mixed with liquid grass.  You had better LOVE IPAs if you’re going to tackle this beer.  I don’t, so next time I’ll pass.

Great Lakes Conway's Irish Ale

Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale

Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale (ABV 6.5) – This beer is an example of a red ale.  It pours with a deep copper color that has a reddish tinge to it.  The beer drinks smooth and is on the thin side of the spectrum.  It is advertised as having a caramel and apple aroma, but I could not detect ANY aroma coming from this beer (maybe I was stuffy — it has been rather cold here) nor could I detect any aftertaste.  This beer imparts its flavor on your tongue while it’s in your mouth, but the taste quickly excuses itself after you swallow.  There was minimal to no hoppiness.  This beer was a real pleasure to drink.

New Belgium Fat Tire

New Belgium Fat Tire

New Belgium Fat Tire (ABV 5.2) — I was at a loss with this amber ale.  I felt there was virtually no taste to this beer.  Once it slides of the tongue, any flavor it had was immediately gone.  There was no hoppiness to this beer at all.  This would be a fine beer for someone who doesn’t really like the flavor of beer to drink.  Not very impressive, in my opinion.

Stone Smoked Porter

Stone Smoked Porter

Stone Smoked Porter with vanilla bean (ABV 5.9) — This example of a porter is one of my favorites so far.  The beer pours very dark with a thick, sudsy head.  This beer has a nice, thick texture and some deep, dark chocolate notes.  Stone Smoked Porter is lightly carbonated so it is easy to drink.  There is some slight bitterness on the back of the tongue with a hint of nutty aftertaste.  This is one you gotta try if you get the chance.

Lindemans Framboise

Lindemans Framboise

Lindemans Framboise (ABV 4) – My wife actually drank this example of a fruit lambic, and she really enjoyed it.  But, she doesn’t like beer, in general.  That is how I think of Lindemans Framboise — a beer for those who do not like the taste of beer.  I love beer, so to me this drink tastes like someone is drinking raspberry Kool-Aid from an unwashed beer mug — lots of fruit flavor with minimal beer characteristics.  I am interested in trying other lambics, but this one is one that I will keep skipping.

Report Card: Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Worthington, Ohio

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Worthington, Ohio

Ruth's Chris Steak House on Urbanspoon
http://www.ruthschris.com/

Overall GrubGrade B+

 

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere:  Grade A:  This was our second visit to Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  Our first visit was well over a decade ago, and all we can really remember about it was it was expensive.  Now that we are a little harder to impress, we decided to put Ruth’s to the test.  We booked a reservation for Valentine’s Day, and as such I was expecting the place to be packed.  Ruth’s was obviously expecting a big crowd, because they sat us in a part of the dining area that is not usually used.  It was secluded in one of the corners.  We were originally a little miffed at being put in the corner, but the seclusion turned out to be pretty nice since we were on a date.  Ruth’s was quiet and clean.  There were spotless linens on the tables and spotless glassware and plates on those spotless linens.  The only reason Ruth’s Steak House did not score an A+ was that the décor was slightly bland.  An hour after we left we couldn’t tell you any details about the décor, so it wasn’t very memorable.

High marks:  Nice secluded table, clean linens and glassware/plates, busy but not too crowded or noisy

Low marks:   Bland and unimaginative decor

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Service:  Grade B:  Our server, Jessica, did a fantastic job making sure all of our wants and needs were met.  Wait time for appetizers and entrees was what you would expect for this type of dining experience.  We didn’t feel rushed, nor did we feel like we were waiting an excessive amount of time for food.  There were no mistakes made with our order.  The service was extremely professional and efficient.  Normally, this type of service would earn at least an A-/B+ grade.  However, in this case we found nothing really special about the service.  We did not feel engaged, which isn’t a huge deal except that when you go to Ruth’s Chris, you know you’re going to drop some serious coin.  So our expectations for phenomenal service are really high.

High marks:  Accurate, timely, and professional service

Low marks:   Stiff and unimaginative service

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Food/Spirits:  Grade A-:   Ruth’s Chris was so close to scoring an A or A+ in this category – real close.  Katina started off with a couple of Blueberry Mojitos and I enjoyed a couple of Thirsty Dog Cerberus ales.  The beer selection was golden and malty, with a slight oaky/bourbon note and some vanilla undertones.  Katina’s Blueberry Mojito was sweet and sugary, with virtually no alcohol bite to it.  It was a very well-mixed cocktail.  For an appetizer, we ordered the spicy lobster.  This dish consisted of bite-sized portions of lobster lightly breaded and tossed in a sweet and spicy glaze.  I think Katina and I had simultaneous mouthgasms.  We are big fans of the Bang Bang Shrimp at Bonefish Grill.  The spicy lobster at Ruth’s Chris was like Bang Bang Shrimp on steroids…fantastic.  For entrees, Katina ordered the Crab cakes and I selected a NY Strip.  We split an order of Lobster Mac and Cheese for our side dish.  The Lobster Mac and Cheese had a nice crust and was slightly creamy.  It wasn’t quite as good as the lobster mac and cheese at Eddie Merlot’s, but Ruth’s Chris version was still pretty delicious.  Katina’s crab cakes were bigger than expected.  They were packed with crab meat and had a distinct crabby flavor.  In addition, the crab cakes absorbed the butter sauce they were served with, which further enhanced the flavor.  My NY strip arrived on a heated plate and immediately got me drooling.  I ordered the steak prepared medium well, and the version I received was definitely more on the medium end of the spectrum, but that was okay.  The steak was expertly seasoned.  BUT, I had originally wanted to order the lamb chops, but was told by our server that they were out of lamb since the shipment they had just received did not live up to Ruth’s Chris standards.  That’s fine, but that means that my second choice had better be a spectacular chunk of meat.  The first half of the steak tasted just a juicy and tender as it looked, but the second half of the steak had a ribbon of gristle running horizontally through the meat.  You couldn’t eat around it because of how it was situated in the steak.  I was a little disappointed that this piece of meat lived up to their standards but the lamb chops were tossed out.

High marks:  Maybe the best appetizer we’ve had, great drinks, fantastic crab cakes      

Low marks:   Large amount of gristle in steak led to doubts about the restaurant’s standards

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Value:  Grade C:   We give this category the lowest weight when we calculate the overall grade for a restaurant.  Unless you’ve been living in a box (or a van down by the river), you should be aware that Ruth’s Chris is not a place to visit if you’re concerned about spending some coin.  We entered Ruth’s Chris with the expectation of leaving a couple hundred dollars poorer, but we also expected our taste buds to experience an hour of ecstasy.   Ruth’s Chris came pretty close, but fell a little short.  However, don’t let the mediocre value grade dissuade you from stopping by.  Cash that income tax refund and live it up a little at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  It is an experience everyone should have (at least once).

High marks:   Nice upscale meal

Low marks:   For the price, quality should be beyond exceptional – this was just a little short of that