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Restaurant Critic Roundup: 11/21/2012

Restaurant Critic Roundup: 11/21/2012


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Every week, The Daily Meal rounds up restaurant reviews across America

Every review offers specialized insight into the food, atmosphere, and service of eateries.

As always, the ratings range from stars to bells to beans, but every review offers specialized insight into the food, atmosphere, and service of eateries in each city’s dining scene and the critics eating at them.

In Boston, The Tip Tap Room takes its name seriously, or literally, for that matter, but according to critic Devra First, "its secret, unbilled strength is game."

San Francisco's Mission Rock Resort has picturesque views, but service can be questionable. However, for an "afternoon or evening surrounded by the bay, it's a frustration well worth enduring."

The nation's capital now plays host to new hipster diner, The Satellite Room, where "boozy milkshakes have been a top draw." Late night options are a plus and variety "tugs at the heartstrings" of many diners.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South, the weekly restaurant critic roundup is here for all of your dining out needs.

Restaurant Critic Roundup: 11/21/2012


CriticPublicationRestaurantRating
Devra FirstThe Boston GlobeThe Tip Tap Room1.5 stars
Ryan SuttonBloombergThirty Acres2.5 stars
Michael KaminerThe New York Daily NewsRosemary's3 stars
Pete WellsThe New York TimesM. Wells Dinette2 stars
Michael BauerThe San Francisco ChronicleMission Rock Resort4 bells
Tom SietsemaThe Washington PostSatellite Room
William PorterThe Denver PostEl Tamarindo 2 stars

Check last week's Restaurant Critic Roundup.

Tyler Sullivan is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter at @atylersullivan.


Restaurant Roundup

Bars serving top-notch food. Chefs whose menus celebrate their own ethnic heritage. The continuing rise of Oakland as a culinary destination. In this hour, we'll talk with leading local food writers about the latest trends in Bay Area dining, and get their picks for the hottest restaurants -- both high-end and budget. And we want to hear from you: What was your most memorable recent eating out experience?

Spots Our Guests Want to Check Out

Michael Bauer , executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle and member of the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Awards Committee

Carolyn Jung , dining blogger at FoodGal.com former food writer and editor for the San Jose Mercury News and author of the "San Francisco Chef's Table"

Meesha Halm , local editor of the Zagat Bay Area Restaurant Guide


A roundup of The Day's recent dining reviews

Published May 11. 2021 11:46AM

This is authentic, fresh and flavorful Mexican food. And the margaritas are very good, too. Rio Salado is bright and clean, and the employees seem to go out of their way to provide excellent service. We have been twice and left more than satisfied both times.

There’s so much to choose from it’s hard to pick out just one or two recommendations, but certainly try the tacos and the El Jefe ($17) — a burrito in a bowl. Another dish that came highly recommended and lived up to its billing was the Puerco de Cochinita Pibil for $21. A slow-braised pork shoulder with bitter orange and achiote, a nutty and earthy-flavored spice extracted from the seeds of the evergreen, was served with warm tortillas and sweet plantains. It was melt-in-your mouth good and the serving so large it was fit for a king.

190 Flanders Road, Niantic

My Greek-food go-to has always been the Greek Food Festival at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in New London. Well, I have a new contender.

Village Café scores with its Greek specialties. The gyro here is the favorite one I’ve had. (It’s $12.95 and served with plentiful fries or salad.) And I discovered a new-to-me Greek pastry, bougatsa. It boasts a custard interior, wrapped in phyllo and topped with cinnamon and powder sugar. Sinfully delicious.

The café isn’t just Greek, though. It is primarily breakfast food and sandwiches, all done very well. I highly recommend the grilled three-egg wraps. The Village Wrap ($7.95) was a delicious mix of egg, sausage, spinach and feta.

(860) 574-9414, cinnamongrill.net

If it's true that Asian food options in America start with Chinese and then cluster between Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and, ah, others, then it's extra great that Cinnamon Grill's goal is to introduce folks to a variety of perhaps lesser-known options.

The menu focuses on Sri Lankan fare, but includes generous and creative representations fromꃊmbodia, Indonesia, Laos, India, Malaysia, and Maldives. And it's very good.

Located in a familiar spot that has previously hosted Gaspar's, Steak Outਊnd 385 Bank Street, Cinnamon Grill is clean and handsome, with very friendly servers and a set up that makes the on-site diner feel comfortable and safe.

While I was dismayed that my otherwise excellent Tamarind Cod ($16.95) had a hidden layer of  mushrooms that weren't in the menu description, there were no other glitches. We also enjoyed a lunch portion of rich Butter Chicken ($8.95 with rice and soup), a Sri Lankan street dish called Kottu ($15.95, beef,chicken or vegetables), and what a friend described as the best chicken wings he's ever had(!!).

By the time you read this, Cinnamon Grill should have a full bar open, and they're also available for takeout and delivery within Groton and New London.


Pubs and bars

Visit the Telegraph's Pub of the Year 2020, plus the best pubs for food, families and dogs

Let's celebrate our great pubs. Here we reveal our readers' favourites, plus Sawday's top spots of 2020

The community pub offering mental-health support to its locals

The Three Horseshoes in Essex hasn't been able to trade since it was bought in 2019, yet is providing vital services for its village

The 11 best rooftop bars in London for the scorching weekend ahead


Best for History: Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert

The predecessor to The Food of Morocco (above), this is the title that helped launch Paula Wolfert's award-winning cookbook writing career and establish her reputation as an expert on Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking. Although the book is decades old, it remains relevant and is treasured by many who own it.

This book was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2008, and it's not hard to see why. It includes dozens of well-researched and carefully compiled recipes on not only the many varieties of couscous dishes, but also delicacies such as bisteeyas, which are pies made of thick, flaky layers of pastry and filled with a variety of foods. A bonus: Each chapter has a tidbit on one aspect of Moroccan food culture, such as a vivid description of the ubiquitous souk, or marketplace.


Restaurant critics are blowing their own covers

RESTAURANT criticism can be divided into two eras: BG and AG.

Before Google, reviewers could pretty much move freely about their business. Some might have felt compelled to slap on a wig, and those with integrity would definitely reserve and pay under an assumed name, but the game of tabletop charades was on. By all standards of old-media journalism, restaurateurs were not supposed to know when a reviewer with the clout to make or break his investment was anywhere near the kitchen.

After Google, the rules are being rewritten by the hour. When any human being is searchable online not just verbally but visually, how can a critic possibly hope to retain anonymity long enough to give a restaurant a fair evaluation? Throw blogs into the mix and it’s a mashup of Facebook and a masquerade ball.

In the last month, a youngish but old-style critic adamant about his anonymity has been involuntarily outed for all of cyberspace and thousands of magazine readers to see, while a blogger-turned-critic happy to bask in the limelight has been hired by a newspaper that puts her pulchritude on prominent display with every review.

And those developments point up only a few of the ways the onset of AG and the age of transparency has changed what it means to be a restaurant critic. Amateur reviewers are increasingly being taken more seriously. Professionals are blogging. The “ethically limber,” as gawker.com put it, are being exposed by the hordes of people commenting anonymously on blogs and websites who will call a freeloader a freeloader and know where the checks are buried. And smart restaurateurs are Googling themselves to monitor the whole freewheeling dialogue.

High visibility for bloggers has publishers taking notice. Adam Roberts, for instance, parlayed his amateurgourmet.com into a book of the same name, sans the dot-com but subtitled “How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop Like a Pro (Almost).” His face is now becoming almost as ubiquitous online as those Japanese toilet ads. But after taking all of two free meals, he has decided to lay off most reviewing because, he says, "(a) I’ve started to see the error of my ways (b) I don’t want to be a restaurant critic.”

“I’d rather make videos with Barbie dolls . . . than be the next Frank Bruni,” he added.

When newspapers had a monopoly, the rules were clear, as they still are at many of the major dailies. The Los Angeles Times requires the restaurant critic to work anonymously, arrive unannounced, make at least three visits and of course always pay for meals. The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer have similar policies. These are also guidelines used by the Assn. of Food Journalists.

These days anyone with a finger to type with can set up shop on the Internet for free and blog through services such as Wordpress and Typepad. In a MySpace world, the faces of the new breed of critic are, of course, often prominent on their blogs. Publicity agents eager for exposure will take coverage they might not get at the big publications, even if it means shelling out for free meals.

And the diner is left to sort it out with Google, or through links on the proliferating aggregate blogs such as eater.com and eaterla.com, which follow the restaurant world like stalkers. (Discussion boards such as chowhound.com and yelp.com are a whole other story.) The result is that choosing a restaurant without seeing what’s been widely written about it is a gamble like never before. Do you trust the old-line critics, the blogger or the commenters?

The critic’s choiceALL this only amplifies the debate, especially online, about the old ways of working. Does being identified really affect a critic’s experience? (Restaurants can change the service and the ingredients, but can a bad kitchen ever turn out great meals on demand?) Is the traditional rule of reviewing anonymously really just a game (or only a performance of kabuki)? And why not just come clean in a world that seems to have become one big virtual confessional?

Danyelle Freeman, a sometime actress and television writer in Los Angeles who started the blog restaurantgirl.com in New York a year and a half ago, takes that last attitude big time. She was hired as a critic by the New York Daily News last month after the New York Times included her in a style story on the increasing effect of restaurant bloggers, and she is riding her new job to a level of billboard exposure. Her first review was accompanied by a half-page profile including a huge photo her face has been overlaid on every review since. A head shot from her acting days has also been plastered on countless computer screens thanks to eater.com, gawker.com and others.

By contrast, Craig LaBan, who has been restaurant reviewer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for nearly 10 years, has always worked the traditional way, but last month Philadelphia magazine proudly published his photograph with an article about a lawsuit a restaurateur had filed over one of his reviews. In the age of instant communication, the image went viral, with links on food gossip sites even in New York.

Despite their different approaches, Freeman and LaBan both say restaurants really cannot do much to instantly improve when a critic is spotted at table eight. Both said they had suffered either “crummy service” or “chicken not cooked to order” even after being recognized.

“Niceness you can fake,” LaBan said. “Attention you can fake. Skill you can’t.” And as Freeman put it, “They’re not bringing in a new chef, or running out to the green market. The service might be a little swifter, or more polite, but that’s transparent.”

Gael Greene, the legendary New York magazine restaurant critic known for her hats, has gone on review expeditions with Freeman but says she is confident neither was noticed she always reserves in another name. But she has escalated the anonymity debate on her website-cum-blog, insatiable-critic.com, having put in more years reviewing than the 33 Freeman has been alive. Mouths that roar tend to be inundated with freebie extras, she notes. She always pays for meals, she says.

LaBan contends that even if absolute anonymity is impossible, it is a goal. He said pictures of him had been circulating among restaurateurs almost since he arrived in Philadelphia after a stint at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “If you’re a critic at a major newspaper in a cosmopolitan city, people make it their business to know who you are,” he said. “It’s more important to arrive unannounced and be discreet. It’s much more important to be a good reporter, be a good eater, be a good critic and be a good writer” than to merely be unknown.

Freeman, however, insists that “anonymity is dated.” “People are really naive to think -- most notable critics -- to think they’re anonymous,” she added.

Google her image and her acting head shot pops up. Do a Google Images search on Frank Bruni of the New York Times and his face is the first image that appears. Meanwhile, finding Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle or S. Irene Virbila of the Los Angeles Times would take some serious gumshoeing, if you could find them at all. LaBan, who is also relatively obscure in a Google search, notes that so many images are lassoed in those kinds of searches that you have to know for whom you are looking.

Does it matter?BUT Jonathan Gold, who reviews restaurants for the LA Weekly, found himself a public figure after winning the Pulitzer Prize for criticism this year his face was everywhere, including in the New York Times. Of the many Jonathan Golds who materialize in a Google image search, the winner is easily spotted now. Yet he says he has “noticed absolutely no difference in being recognized in restaurants. None. Zero.”

Gold contends that all prominent reviewers are known to restaurateurs, especially at the high end. Possibly only Michelin reviewers are completely anonymous, he says.

As for tracking what bloggers have to say, Gold admits to reading them “more than is healthy,” often for tips on particular cuisines and neighborhoods. “The blogs that obsess on sake or doughnuts or tacos or Singaporean street food or Pinkberry are great, and I am constantly amazed by the food blogs from Mumbai or Bangkok or Phnom Penh or Saigon that put ‘exotic’ cuisines into real-life context.”

Among Los Angeles restaurant bloggers who offer reviews in one form or another, the Gael Greene dodginess is often the model, with faces relatively obscured, as at Pat Saperstein’s eatingla.com or thedeliciouslife.blogspot.com, run by Sarah J. Gim. Saperstein also includes a statement up high on her ethics, noting that she “tries to pay for as many of [her] meals as possible” but writes “informational articles” rather than reviews of those she is comped. (la.foodblogging.com has a good blog roll of other local voices.)

Eric Greenspan, chef-owner of the Foundry on Melrose, says the bloggers who can be taken seriously are “those that at least do a responsible job of saying who they are” so that readers can “tune in to a voice they can trust,” as opposed to anonymous contributors on discussion boards who may or may not have an agenda.

Greenspan, who said he always knows when a print reviewer is in his restaurant, said he has recognized only one blogger, and only because he went to summer camp with her. But he notes that bloggers often give themselves away by whipping out their digital cameras. And he said he would tell a blogger looking for a free meal that “we don’t pay for reviews, and it’s a shame you’re offering them for sale.”

Even the most recognizable of restaurant critics has good reason to feel rejuvenated lately. So many blogs and websites link to print that even obscure publications now get huge exposure as the critiques are obsessively critiqued. No one has to run out and buy six newspapers on a Wednesday a site like eater.com will round up every scrap of food news you can use. And the ever-expanding blog rolls mean even the most obscure commentary is never lost in cyberspace.

The new openness is epitomized by Freeman, who believes that “a younger dining set” is looking for “a voice and face to identify with.” Freeman continues to blog on her website. She says her new employers were drawn to her following at the blog, where her face has always been visible, but she adds, “I honestly really don’t know the statistics” on how much traffic it generates. (She estimates 30,000 readers a month, but websites have different ways of counting.)

LaBan, for his part, says that even now that he has been sort of formally exposed, “I’m never going to stick my picture on my column, never going to go up to the maitre d’s stand and say, ‘Guess who’s here.’ I just wouldn’t make it easy for people.”

As for the damage the magazine piece has done, he sounds unperturbed. It’s an old photo, he says, “and I’ve been working on my physique.” Judging by the YouTube video of him singing a love song to the cheeseburger that was unearthed by a person commenting on the Philadelphia magazine website and of course turns up on Google Images, he has indeed.


Viet-Cajun crawfish are gaining culinary fame in melting pot of Houston and beyond

1 of 9 A three-pound order of spicy Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish at Crawfish & Noodles made by tossing boiled crawfish in garlic butter, spices and ground chile pepper at Crawfish & Noodles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Houston. Trong Nguyen has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

2 of 9 A three-pound order of spicy Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish at Crawfish & Noodles made by tossing boiled crawfish in garlic butter, spices and ground chile pepper at Crawfish & Noodles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Houston. Trong Nguyen has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

3 of 9 Trong Nguyen, owner of Crawfish & Noodles, has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

4 of 9 1-2. After Crawfish & Noodles' Trong Nguyen boils the mudbugs, they are drained and placed in a metal bowl. 3. Nguyen then ladles chopped garlic steeped in European-style butter (the garlic comes to his kitchen pre-chopped in a neutral oil that he carefully marries to melted butter in a proprietary ratio). The mudbugs are tossed in this mixture, along with a few ladles of the boiling water. 4. Then comes a propriety blend of ground chile peppers and spices in several heat levels. A few more tosses and the plated bowl goes out to customers. Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

5 of 9 1-2. After Crawfish & Noodles' Trong Nguyen boils the mudbugs, they are drained and placed in a metal bowl. 3. Nguyen then ladles chopped garlic steeped in European-style butter (the garlic comes to his kitchen pre-chopped in a neutral oil that he carefully marries to melted butter in a proprietary ratio). The mudbugs are tossed in this mixture, along with a few ladles of the boiling water. 4. Then comes a propriety blend of ground chile peppers and spices in several heat levels. A few more tosses and the plated bowl goes out to customers. Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

6 of 9 1-2. After Crawfish & Noodles' Trong Nguyen boils the mudbugs, they are drained and placed in a metal bowl. 3. Nguyen then ladles chopped garlic steeped in European-style butter (the garlic comes to his kitchen pre-chopped in a neutral oil that he carefully marries to melted butter in a proprietary ratio). The mudbugs are tossed in this mixture, along with a few ladles of the boiling water. 4. Then comes a propriety blend of ground chile peppers and spices in several heat levels. A few more tosses and the plated bowl goes out to customers. Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

7 of 9 Trong Nguyen prepares a three-pound order of boiled crawfish tossed in garlic butter and a spice and ground chile pepper mixture at Crawfish & Noodles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Houston. Trong Nguyen has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

8 of 9 Trong Nguyen prepares a three-pound order of boiled crawfish tossed in garlic butter and a spice and ground chile pepper mixture at Crawfish & Noodles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Houston. Trong Nguyen has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

9 of 9 Trong Nguyen prepares a three-pound order of boiled crawfish tossed in garlic butter and a spice and ground chile pepper mixture at Crawfish & Noodles, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Houston. Trong Nguyen has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest by the prestigious James Beard Awards. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) Karen Warren/Staff Show More Show Less

The true origins of Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish - boiled mudbugs slathered in garlicky butter and liberally dusted with spices - might never be known.

But it's safe to say Houston owns the fusion dish, which is enjoying time in the national food spotlight.

In mid-February, the James Beard Foundation named semifinalists for its annual awards, the country's highest culinary honor. Trong Nguyen, owner of Crawfish & Noodles in Chinatown - which helped define and popularize Viet-Cajun cuisine - made the cut. It was a singular feat for a chef specializing in the distinctly Houston-style mudbugs.

Crawfish & Noodles' contributions to Viet-Cajun crawfish were further underscored in an episode of the new, buzzed-about Netflix documentary series "Ugly Delicious," in which host/celebrity chef David Chang visits the restaurant with Houston chefs Chris Shepherd and Justin Yu (all three James Beard Award winners) to wax rhapsodic about Nguyen's crawfish.

In the show, Chang points out that Houston's diverse immigrant population contributes to melting-pot cuisines - including Viet-Cajun crawfish - that can only be found here.

"The city of Houston is sort of perfectly set for people to take a chance on the new," Chang said.

Crawfish & Noodles is the most famous, but it's not entirely clear which Houston restaurant was first to serve what is now known as Viet-Cajun crawfish.

Houston's large population of Vietnamese immigrants, who were responsible for making pho and banh mi part of the city's diet, also developed an appreciation for boiled crawfish in the late 1990s. The dish began to evolve from there. When the traditional Louisiana crawfish boil met the Chinatown strip-center restaurant, food writer/historian Robb Walsh wrote in 2014, a "hybrid was born."

Early versions of crawfish served at Vietnamese-owned restaurants resembled Louisiana boils but with more spices in the water the crawfish came with squeeze bottles of condiments to create dipping sauces. When garlic butter entered the picture can't be pinpointed. Walsh wrote that the trend started in Houston but noted a story in the Los Angeles Times that claims it began with the Boiling Crab restaurant in Orange County, Calif., in 2004. Food historian John T. Edge has placed the origin of boiled crawfish finished in a buttery blend of garlic, lemon pepper and Cajun spices with Boiling Crab in the early 2000s.

Jenny Wang, the founder of Houston Chowhounds and a dedicated chronicler of the contemporary Houston food movement, wrote about seven restaurants in Chinatown that were doing Viet-Cajun crawfish for an article in My Table magazine in February 2010. At that time, the California-based Boiling Crab had an outpost in Houston. Wang said it was Walsh who turned her on to Boiling Crab, which is the first place she sampled the butter/garlic/spices finish to boiled crawfish. In her roundup, Wang awarded Boiling Crab's crawfish an A&. Crawfish & Noodles received the same grade.

"I thought it took Cajun crawfish to the next level by adding garlic, butter and even more spices that are traditionally in a crawfish boil," said Wang, now owner/operator of Hunan Garden restaurant in Kingwood.

Today there are dozens of proprietors of excellent Viet-Cajun crawfish in Houston, Wang said, but she doesn't know which shop was the first.

In "Ugly Delicious," Nguyen states that Crawfish & Noodles originated Viet-Cajun crawfish in Houston, a claim that the trio of James Beard Award-winning chefs do not dispute.

Trial and error and success

Nguyen opened Crawfish & Noodles in April 2008 as an investment. At the time, he was employed in public relations as an Asian marketing executive for gaming and entertainment operations that included Harrah's, Golden Nugget and L'Auberge Casino. And he might have remained in that career if his new restaurant was successful.

It wasn't, at least not at first. With a simple menu of Louisiana-style boiled crawfish, chicken wings and noodle soups, Crawfish & Noodles offered nothing that distinguished itself from the many other Asian-owned restaurants on Bellaire Boulevard. The restaurant wasn't doing well, so six months after it opened Nguyen quit his day job to give it his undivided attention.

ALISON COOK'S TOP 100: Crawfish & Noodles

He installed a new kitchen crew and began looking for ways to distinguish his restaurant. Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and came to Houston in 1987, said he began experimenting with flavoring boiled crawfish in the first year of operations. After months of research and development - and experimenting on his family - he said he perfected a unique preparation of boiled crawfish tossed in garlicky butter and spices.

Not all his customers approved, he said. "It was not a flavor profile familiar to Vietnamese," Nguyen said, adding that initially only half his customers enjoyed the dish. He spent a lot of time visiting tables and hand-selling his Viet-Cajun crawfish.

Nguyen said he strongly believes that Crawfish & Noodles created the modern Viet-Cajun crawfish dish. He also credits Wang's 2010 article with making his restaurant famous in Houston. After Wang's article, he said, Crawfish & Noodles was the place to go for Viet-Cajun crawfish.

In 2017, the James Beard restaurant awards committee met in Houston for one of its quarterly meetings. Texas Monthly restaurant critic Pat Sharpe, who is on the committee, said the city's diverse dining scene made a great impression on the judges, many of whom had meals at Chinatown restaurants - including Crawfish & Noodles - on their agenda.

"All of us were very interested in seeing not just the fine dining but the whole breadth of dining in Houston," she said.

Sharpe was especially thrilled with the inclusion of Nguyen, the first chef ever recognized for specializing in Viet-Cajun cuisine. "I've been a voting member for at least 25 years," Sharpe said. "I don't remember anything like this."

For his part, Nguyen said he was "very surprised" when his son told him his name was on the list, from which five finalists will be selected and announced March 14.

"I didn't invent crawfish. I didn't invent Louisiana spices," Nguyen said. "I just put them together."


The top 10 pollos asados roasted chicken places in San Antonio

19 of 27 The former Pollos Asados Don Carbon at 547 Culebra Road is now called Al Carbon Pollos Asados following a lawsuit from a similarly named business in El Paso. Paul Stephen /Staff Show More Show Less

Grilled short ribs from Al Carbon Pollos Asados

Paul Stephen /Staff file photo Show More Show Less

22 of 27 Pollos Asados Don Carbon is located at 547 Culebra Road. Paul Stephen / Staff Photographer Show More Show Less

The Salchiburger at Al Carbon Pollos Asados features a beef patty topped with a grilled sausage and guacamole.

The Monterrey Burger at Al Carbon Pollos Asados is topped with ham, cheese, guacamole and salsa.

Paul Stephen /Staff file photo Show More Show Less

26 of 27 The salchicha asada especial at Pollos Asados Don Carbon is a grilled sausage topped with bacon and cheese. Paul Stephen / Staff Photographer Show More Show Less

You&rsquove got Pollos Asados Los Norteños to blame for this list, really.

Not just because it&rsquos the king of flame-roasted chicken in this town, but because in the last year, Los Norteños has closed and reopened and closed with more end-game drama than a telenovela. And we now have trust issues.

It&rsquos open again, for now. But who knows which way the wind will blow? For these uncertain times, here&rsquos a ranking of San Antonio&rsquos 10 best places for pollos asados.


The review we’ve been waiting for

I’ve eaten at Peter Luger’s four times over the past 20 years. It was progressively worse each meal and I constantly asked myself during the last two meals, “Why am I here when there are at least a dozen better steak places in the city?”

Wow, finally, an honest review of Peter Luger! I’ve only been to Peter Luger twice in the last 10 years. The first time I wondered what the hype was all about. The steak was good but we had reservations and still waited 45 minutes to be seated. The prices were outrageous. I could not figure out why the place was crowded.

The next time, I figured it would be different. Maybe I was just there on an off night. Nope, same 45-minute wait. Prices were even worse than before. I could have bought a better steak at the local supermarket and cooked it myself.

— Peter E. Schwimer, Staten Island

My son wanted to go to Peter Luger’s for his graduation from N.Y.U. I wanted to tell him that there are better places in New York. In fact, I wanted to tell him that most steak places in New York are better than Peter Luger. But I didn’t.

We went. We spent a lot of money. And on the way out the door he said to me, “I don’t get why this place is such a big deal.”

Back in the ’80s and ’90s when I was a Wall Street banker, I’d get dragged over to Luger’s on a regular basis by clients and colleagues who thought that this was the ultimate New York City steakhouse experience.

Naturally, everyone was on an expense account, but I was still baffled and unimpressed with the entire place. There was really no menu. The waiters behaved as if they were doing you a favor (wearing greasy beige jackets). And what is it that they are passing off as a salad?

I’m just happy that they’re finally being called out on their longstanding mediocrity.


This Dallas restaurant news roundup is brimming with tasty bites

There's loads of tidbits in this roundup of Dallas restaurant news, in all flavors and varieties: from new openings to spring menus to spirits news to charitable and environmental initiatives, which are the best kind of all.

Here's the latest Dallas dining news:

Twisted Chic Dallas is a new bar concept at 2714 McKinney Ave. in the former Trophy Room. It's an open-concept restaurant that has undergone renovation including the installation of turf on the patio, the addition of a food truck, and a mural by local tattoo artist Josh Green. The food truck is a collaboration with Taco Cielo, offering street tacos and Tex-Mex. Games such as Cornhole and Jenga will be available along with a mechanical bull on the patio. It's a sports-driven space with 13 big-screen TVs and an outdoor capacity for 115.

The Biscuit Bar, the local biscuit-centric chain, is opening a location in Coppell at 104 S. Denton Tap Rd., at the intersection of Sandy Lake on April 26. They'll also be opening another in Addison at Prestonwood Place off Belt Line Road later in 2021. The chain currently has locations in Plano, Deep Ellum, Arlington, and Stockyards. They've also joined Cloud Kitchens, the ghost kitchen facility in Oak Cliff, for takeout and delivery. During April, they're featuring The Ballpark biscuit, with a beef patty, cheddar cheese, smoked sausage, sautéed peppers & onions, and Dijon aioli.

The Human Bean, a drive-thru coffee chain founded in Oregon, is opening a new location at 1001 FM 3040 in Lewisville, This will be the chain's second DFW location and the 5th in Texas.

7-Eleven just opened its newest Evolution Store in Prosper. This is the fourth Evolution Store in Dallas-Fort Worth and seventh in the U.S., following a recent opening in Dallas at Park Lane and Abrams Road. Evolution Stores sell the latest innovations and products tailored to each market in a pioneering store format, including self-serve, bean-to-cup and espresso coffee, baked goods, better-for-you items, and an extensive wine selection. This location also features a Laredo Taco Company.

Bellagreen has launched its spring menu, available through the end of June, with new dishes that include Green Goddess Salad with spring mix, Romaine, strawberries, carrots, and garbanzo beans in green goddess dressing mango habanero chicken wings, Wagyu bacon burger with caramelized onions, raspberries, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and garlic aioli on a brioche bun, with French fries or sweet potato fries tacos with rainbow slaw paleo salmon or Korean ribeye lemon poppyseed cheesecake and white sangria. They're also featuring two dinner-only chef entrées: paleo Prime ribeye with avocado chimichurri sauce and crispy Brussels sprout leaves, and almond-crusted snapper with lemon-cilantro mashed potatoes and French garlic green beans.

Cowboy Chicken is bringing back its Trail Boss sandwich with a breaded and fried rotisserie chicken breast, lettuce, mayo, pickles, and ranch, available through July 4. They've also added two new seasonal salads: the Southwestern corn and bean salad with pinto beans, black beans, corn, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeños and tomato-cucumber salad with cilantro and red onion. Beginning May 3, they'll be sering watermelon tea and fresh watermelon slices. The salads and watermelon items are available through October 3.

Tupelo Honey has three new chicken & waffle dishes, available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at all 17 Tupelo Honey locations across the country: sriracha honey fried chicken & waffles Mac-N-Cheese waffle topped with fried chicken, garlic buttermilk ranch, pickles, and chives and country-style fried chicken & waffles, topped with milk gravy, plus two fried eggs on the side.

Rodeo Goat has a limited-edition burger, available until April 26, called the Evan Grant, named for the DMN sports writer. It has a 44 Farms beef patty stuffed with gouda and bacon, Zavala's Barbecue brisket, microgreens, French fried potato salad, and aioli on a black sesame seed bun for $12.

Zalat Pizza has a new Nashville Hot Chicken & Pickle Pizza with Nashville hot sauce base, mozzarella cheese, chicken, red onion, garlic, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and bread and butter pickle chips. Place an order for pickup on www.zalatpizza.com or delivery is available through most third-party delivery apps such as UberEats and Doordash.

Motor City Pizza, the Detroit-style pizza pop-up, is now being served at five bars across DFW: Lakeview Growler, Bluffview Growler, and three locations of What’s On Tap.

Tiff's Treats has debuted a Double Chocolate Chip cookie, the first new cookie flavor to join the permanent menu in five years, and the first ever chocolate-based cookie on the permanent menu.

Dairy Queen has a new Frosted Animal Cookie Blizzard Treat combining frosted animal sugar cookies, pink confetti frosting, and DQ soft serve, available through April.

Son of a Butcher has two specials for April at its Legacy Food Hall and Lower Greenville locations: Lemon Meringue Shake with vanilla ice cream, lemon curd, whipped cream, lemon zest, and cookie crumbles and a Smashburger Slider with Wagyu, caramelized onion, mustard, cheddar, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, and mayo.

Original ChopShop has added new items and updated its breakfast menu to make it a more enduring destination for breakfast. They've also introduced a new limited-time menu category that will rotate every few months. Current offerings include a power bowl with scrambled egg, bacon, goat cheese, broccoli, mushroom, arugula, Brussels sprout, and avocado an Avo Shake wih avocado, banana, spinach, dates, peanut butter, chia pudding, almond milk, vanilla whey protein powder, and agave beet juice with carrot, green apple, ginger and turmeric and Nanner Crunch Chia Pudding with chia seed, coconut milk, banana, chocolate sauce, almond and granola.

Bonchon has a new limited-time-only Sweet Red Chili sauce, with chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. It'll join Bonchon's soy garlic and spicy fried chicken flavors and will be available through June 13. The Dallas-based Korean fried chicken chain has also launched a "Stop Asian Violence" with a line of T-shirts where the proceeds go to the AAPI Community Fund. Each shirt has "Stop Asian Violence" inscribed over the heart, below the Korean symbol for love. T-shirts are $20 on stopasianviolence.orderpromos.com.

Sixty Vines is asking guests to be a partner in protecting wine country and the Earth by recycling their corks. In return, they get a taste from Sixty Vines' taps. Corks will be recycled and shared with local artists who will create items to be sold at SixtyVines.com in October. Proceeds will benefit a fund that will support wine country around the world in times of need.

High Fives, the bar on Henderson Avenue, is celebrating National High Fives Day on April 17 starting at 5 pm with a crawfish boil, $5 shots, DJ Fishr Pryce - "and of course free High Fives all night."

Perry's Steakhouse & Grille is serving a limited-time cocktail called Rita Rose Ole featuring George Strait's Código 1530 Rosa Tequila with Casa Madero Rose Wine and lemon juice. It's $15.

Oak & Eden In-Bottle Finished Whiskey, based in Dallas, has a new line called The Anthro Series crafted in collaboration with celebrities. Forrie J Smith, who plays Lloyd Pierce on the TV show Yellowstone, collaborated on a 116-proof bourbon whiskey finished with a cold brew coffee-soaked American Oak spiral. Professional skier Kina Pickett collaborated on a 90-proof bourbon whiskey finished with a maple syrup soaked American Oak spiral.

Smokey John's Bar-B-Que and Home Cooking will be featured on the Discovery Plus series Restaurant Recovery, hosted by Raising Canes' owner Todd Graves, who travels around the country helping family-owned restaurants that are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Reaves brothers delve into their family history and walk away with solutions with the assistance of Graves and his team. It's streaming on discovery+ starting Thursday, April 15.

White Rock Alehouse & Brewery will hold their third anniversary party at their Alehouse near White Rock Lake on April 17. There will be live music and more than 25 of their releases available, including some in 12- and 16-ounce cans, as well as a special release in a wax-dipped bottle. It'll run 11 am-9 pm and is open to all.

Refined Hospitality Concepts, the company behind restaurants including Primo’s MX Kitchen & Lounge, Sfereco and Overeasy, has hired Chef Jason Tilmann as its new Research & Development Corporate Chef. Tilmann comes with a great pedigree, having worked at Triomphe at the Iroquois, David Burke&Donatella, Hide Yamamoto, Restaurant Daniel, and Le Cirque.

Starbucks is scaling up single-store tests of their reusable cup rental service, Borrow a Cup, at five stores in Seattle from March 30 through May 31. Customers can spend an extra dollar for a reusable cup and then return it by scanning the cup at a kiosk or through a pickup service and get their dollar back as credit plus bonus stars on their rewards account. The cup is cleaned and sanitized. Starbucks has had its own reusable cup discount program for decades, although the majority of customers are lazy and still won't bring in their own cups.


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