Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Luciano's -- Corpus Christi, TX

Luciano's, 1821 S. Alameda at Six Points, is a classic from way back. You gotta love a restaurant with starched white table cloths and low lighting. A very classy atmosphere greets you as you enter Luciano's . . . most of the time. This visit we were greeted by a man wearing a ball cap. Hmmm, that's never happened before, and I must tell you that he didn't hang around. A man dressed more appropriately manned the host's booth during the rest of the time we were there. Perhaps it was a fluke. He was probably just watching the front while the host took care of something important. Regardless, we always enjoy visiting Luciano's.

Our waiter, arrived at our table several minutes after we were seated. He apologized for being so long, telling us he had just been told that he had a table. I'm not going to speculate as to why he was not out front waiting for someone to be seated in his section, but I will say he was professional, personable, gave us great service, and he was dressed appropriately.

Shrimp Diavolo
Rob had the Shrimp Diavolo. Six plump shrimp in a spicy, serrano laced tomato sauce served atop linguine. Delicioso! The shrimp were beautifully cooked. The sauce just spicy enough to let you know the peppers were there, but not burn your mouth spicy. The seasonings were great, a wonderful balance. I had the Veal Saltimbocca. This is where things take a turn. The thinly sliced veal is covered with prosciutto and provolone, baked and served on a bed of risotto with a rich cream sauce. The meal was beautiful and the flavors were wonderful, but the veal was tough, and the risotto overcooked for my taste. I like it a little closer to al dente. Now, before you stop reading and resolve never to visit Luciano's, you need to know that in my many visits over the past few years, this is the very first time that I have ever had anything to complain about.
Veal Saltimbocca
 I informed our server that the meat was tough (I didn't mention the risotto) and he immediately offered to order something else for me. I didn't want to have to wait and leave Rob eating alone, then him waiting on me while I ate. I assured the server that the flavors were good and the veal was edible, just tough. He spoke to the chef and returned to the table telling us that the chef admitted that the veal had not been prepared as well as it should have been. The server comped my meal and we all lived happily ever after.

Would I still recommend Luciano's? Absolutely, without hesitation. They serve the best Italian in town, and as I've stated before, this is the first time I've ever had a meal that was not top notch. I'm not holding it against them, especially since they were willing to make it right.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saltwater Grill -- Corpus Christi, TX

The Saltwater Grill, 2401 Cimmaron, is located right on the curve coming off Airline. I give you this because a couple of people in our party had trouble finding it. We went there with a party of almost 20 people. They were expecting us and we found them setting up the tables as the first of us arrived. There was plenty of room for us to wait for our table, but we didn't have to wait long.

The best thing I can say about the place is that our waitperson was very attentive and worked hard to keep everyone happy. Notice that I say waitperson, singular, she had no help whatsoever. I cannot say that she was cheerful, but I can't imagine that I would have been either waiting on a group of nearly twenty all by myself. She worked hard. She earned every penny of the gratuity and deserved more. We were doing separate checks and you can rest assured that Rob and I did add to the gratuity.

Atmosphere. I didn't really notice much decor. The restaurant is in a strip center, so most of the place is open windows and we were seated next to the kitchen and didn't have much of a view of the place. I did notice some planters separating the waiting area from the section where we were seated. The room was noisy where we were at, but that may have had a lot to do with our location in the place, though there did not seem to be any acoustical adjustments to lower noise.

We were greeted at the table with homemade potato chips. These were great! Be careful when they arrive at your table. One, they're hot, and two, they're addictive. I was afraid I would have no appetite before I ordered, much less before the food actually arrived. Rob and I were looking at the same dish so we decided to share and add an appetizer. We ordered Crabcakes (you should know by now that I have trouble passing up crabcakes) as our appetizer. They were more like crab pancakes. The best thing I can say about them is that they were not greasy. They were about half filler. Though the flavor was decent, I like more crab in my cakes. Not impressed.

The dish we ordered was the Shimp and Fish plate. This came with four large shrimp and some fish filets, all fried. The shrimp was not bad, maybe a little overdone, but okay. The fish was tough. Yes, tough. We had fried okra and french fries as our sides and they were fine. This is the kind of food that you can get in any mediocre restaurant in any town of nearly any state. I guess for the price it was okay, but that's the best I can say. Now, before I close I have to tell you that most of the others in our party thought it was really good, and the place was packed. So, maybe we're just picky, but for a city on the bay, off of the Gulf of Mexico, I expect better from a place calling itself Saltwater Grill.

I really don't like writing reviews like this, but we really cannot recommend the Saltwater Grill -- not when there are so many other really good seafood restaurants in the area.

Dos Comales -- Corpus Christi, TX

Dos Comales, 227 N. Water St, is a newcomer to Corpus Christi, but not to the Coastal Bend. You could say that Dos Comales is a direct decendent of Los Comales in Rockport, since the son of the owner of Los Comales runs Dos Comales. If you're not confused, we'll continue. Festive is the word that comes to mind when you enter Dos Comales. Bright and festive. The building itself is rather small, but the decor cleverly takes advantage of the fact by cutting the space lengthwise, separating the bar area with a brightly painted wall, but punching that with arch windows, keeping the space open with a patio feel. A loft level over the bar povides even more space, and for those who don't want to be boxed in, there's the actual patio off of the parking area. Speaking of parking, stay on the street. The parking lot is tight -- very tight. It'll be much easier to get in and out on the street.

Being near the bayfront, I understand it can get pretty busy at Dos Comales, expecially on the weekends. I've read some reviews complaining that it took a while to get food. Well, I can tell you that the kitchen is small, having worked in it over Christmas making bread with a friend, before Dos Comales was there, so I can see how things could get backed up. Personally, we like to eat fairly early, so we had no trouble with the time it took to receive our food. Our waitperson was great. She was knowledgeable about the food and was able to make some wine suggestions. She was attentive and gave us the history lesson on the place.

Tarasco Shrimp
There are plenty places to get enchiladas in this town, so we go straight to the specialties. There were two dishes that caught our eyes. Tarasco Shrimp and El Yucateco. These were the dishes that Rob and I both wanted to try so we ordered both, sat the plates next to each other in the middle of the table and ate from both of them. Fortunately, since we were there early, there were not too many stares. Both dishes were good, but my favorite (and Rob's) was the Tarasco Shrimp. Six jumbo shrimp sauted in a creamy sauce with red onions, mushrooms, cilantro and Parmesan cheese. I was surprised that this would be my favorite because I'm not a big mushroom fan and there were plenty of mushrooms on the plate, but the creamyness of the sauce and the cheese just fills your mouth with rich but mellow happiness.

The El Yucateco was good, but not quite what we were expecting. The description read: Eggplant twice crusted and once fried, with crab, shrimp, scallops and chili con queso, and it was beautiful. We thought it would be rich and flavorful. Though I can't really say I was disappointed, it was good, just not impressive. The seafood was cooked well, but it just didn't deliver on the flavor, and the eggplant was rubbery. But, this is what sometimes happens when you try something new.
El Yucateco

Overall, we liked Dos Comales. Can't gush about it, but we were treated well and we did enjoy our time there. It was comfortable, affordable and we were able to sit in a place where we couldn't see the televisions. We would go there again.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

La Playa Mexican Grille -- Port Aransas, TX

This La Playa is not associated with the La Playa restaurants in Corpus Christi. It is completely different and that's a very good thing. La Playa Mexican Grille, 222 Beach St, Port Aransas, looks like a bit of a dive, but that's part of the charm. Rob and I were definitly overdressed for this place. He was wearing long pants and a belt and I had on heels. It is a casual place. All of the wait staff were in shorts and some looked as if they may have visited the beach before coming to work. Understand, I'm not complaining, it is just a very casual place.

This was our first visit to La Playa. The decor is eclectic and very suited to Port A. The wait staff  is friendly and accommodating. It's small, holding about a dozen tables and booths inside, and three or four more on the deck. From reviews we read online, through various sites, the place is very popular and it's not unusual to wait an hour and a half for a table, especially on weekend nights. We tried to make reservations and were told that they do not accept reservations, but they don't get real busy until after 6:00 p.m. They opened at 5:00 p.m. and we arrived at 4:58 p.m. -- just in case.

As you may have figured out, if you follow this blog, I like to have a glass of wine with my dinner. Unfortunately, La Playa only carries one wine label in Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. I ordered the Chardonnay. It's not a great label and I didn't catch the name. Rob had the house Margarita, and said it was good, but pretty weak alcohol-wise. They carry several tequilas and specialize in signature margaritas.

Hopefully, you have not given up on this place yet. I know it doesn't sound real promising so far, but stick around for the food. We had read in reviews that the Crabmeat Enchiladas were great and I was looking forward to them. Our server, Cindi, went through the specials, each sounding pretty amazing, but I wanted the Crabmeat Enchiladas. Looking at the menu I could not seem to pull my eyes away from them and their description -- three corn tortillas stuffed with sauteed lump crabmeat and avocados covered with creamy roasted poblano sauce. Well, Rob ordered them, after wondering aloud about the Crawfish Enchiladas! I ordered the Crabmeat Enchiladas anyway, hoping this would not make for a boring review, BUT Rob asked if they could substitute one of the enchiladas on his plate with a Crawfish Enchilada. Cindi said since they weren't busy yet she thought they probably could, and they did.
Mixed Enchiladas!

The plates arrived and they were beautiful. The enchiladas lined up creamy white between black beans and fiesta rice. The Crabmeat Enchiladas were so delicate. As I cut into them I could see that they truly were stuffed with crabmeat and beautiful with a little avocado layer between the meat and tortilla. The creamy roasted poblano sauce was light and a very nice compliment to the crabmeat and avocado as was the white cheese that topped it all.

Rob was nice enough to share part of his Crawfish Enchilada with me. Oh. My. Goodness! The Crawfish Enchiladas are stuffed with crawfish tails, red and green bell pepper and topped with a creamy chipotle sauce. Spicy and wonderful. Next time that's what I'm getting! Not that the Crabmeat Enchiladas were a disappointment, they weren't, I just liked the Crawfish better, because I like spicy. So, for you my faithful followers, I recommend the Crabmeat Enchiladas for those of you who like light and creamy and the Crawfish Enchiladas for those who like rich and spicy. Oh, and order one of the signature margaritas!

Cindi talked us into taking some of  "the best flan in South Texas" home with us. We ate it later in the evening. I had two bites and that was enough for me. I'm not really a flan fan (try saying that three times fast) so I don't feel qualified to comment on my experience. Rob said he liked it, but wouldn't consider it the best in South Texas. He feels that title should go to the flan at La Fogata in San Antonio.

Would we eat there again? Absolutely! The food was very good and and after perusing the take-out menu that I swiped, I'm thinking The Blackened Tuna Tacos, and the Enchiladas Camarones (shrimp) need to be tried. We do recommend La Playa, but go early to avoid the crowds and stick with soda, tea or signature drinks. Oh, and bring cash. They don't accept cards, but there is an ATM just inside the door. La Playa is on the higher end of moderately priced.

Boardwalk Bistro -- San Antonio, Tx

You've seen this one on our favorites list and for good reason. Boardwalk Bistro, 4011 Broadway, San Antonio (www.boardwalkbistro.net) is a great dining experience. The cuisine is Mediterranean, and everything is delicious! The decor may be a little dated, but the low lights, candlelit, white tablecloth covered tables and lush chairs will leave you comfortable and relaxed.

We took the kids there to celebrate my daughter's graduation from UTSA. Rob, my daughter and I went with the five course wine pairing, while my son and his girlfriend opted for a more traditional route since he had to drive back to Austin afterwards. We made our reservations for 7:00 p.m. because on weekend nights there is live music beginning at 7:30 p.m. and we were looking forward to hearing some great jazz. Imagine our disappointment when we learned that there would not be jazz, but flamenco guitar. Well, we were not disappointed long. The gentlemen who played were quite talented and the music mixed well with our mood. We discovered that it encouraged us to concentrate on our conversation and was not as distracting as a vocalist might have been.

On to the food! There was so much, with five courses, that I'm going to touch on the favorites. Appetizers: Artichoke Heart and Serrano Ham -- thin slices of ham wrapped around an artichoke heart, sauteed in herbs and olive oil and served on toast points. It was a bit of a challenge to eat daintily, but who cares? Skewered Lamb Kabob -- chunks of marinated lamb sauteed with red onion served with couscous, garnished with Meditteranian salsa, tzatziki sauce and Rioja reduction. What does all that mean? According to my daughter, who was trying lamb for the first time, it means "A-ma-zing!" The Fried Calamari -- served with tomatillo lime salsa and a spicy pomadora sauce. As one who has sworn off fried calamari because of the rubbery texture, I was dubius, but I am now a calamari fan. The coating was crisp and the meat tender. Both sauces were great.
Skewered Lamb Kabob

Main course: Seafood Paella -- saffron rice, shrimp scallops, snapper, mussels, chicken, Spanish chorizo, peppers, tomato, onion and garlic. My son's girfriend could not finish this traditional Spanish dish. There was way too much. Often a dish like this would contain mostly rice, but this one was very meaty, and she said very good! My daughter and husband had the Salmon which was an extra option to the menu. It is prepared like the Mediterranean Halibut -- baked in a white wine jus, served with asparagus basmati rice and accented with citrus sauce and tomato calamata olive relish. Both agree that the fish was flaky, moist and flavorful and that the asparagus in the rice was cooked perfectly. I had the Crab Cake -- lump crab (with no fillers) topped with a mango relish and avacado emulsion with accents of citrus beurre blanc served over mesclun greens mixed with a citrus vinaigrette. Excellent! The best part, though, was a little surprise of little chunks of a fabulous firm goat cheese mixed in with the greens. A lot of flavors, but none overwhelmed the crab and all played well together.

Dessert: I always plan to try something else on the menu, but when I open my mouth "Chocolate Pecan Caramel Torte" is all I can say. A very tall slice of rich chocolate cake, but not like most chocolate cakes. Like German chocolate, it's heavier and a little dryer, but it's not like German chocolate. You just have to try it yourself. It is deliciously topped with a pecan and caramel mixture that is wonderful. Very rich! My daughter had the Tiramisu. It was light, creamy and fabulous.

This was just an overview of our meal. Everything was beautifully presented and delicious. If there is any complaint about the meal it would be that our wines did not always arrive with the dish to which they were paired. We had completely finished our first glass before the appetizers arrived. To be fair, the server was training another and she said that she didn't want those of us who were doing the wine pairings to sit without our wine while she served my son and his girlfriend their drinks. Personally, I would have been fine with water and waiting. She should have asked, but those things happen and I don't see it as a reason to not recommend Boardwalk Bistro.

Rob and I have eaten at the Boardwalk Bistro several times and have never had a bad dish. Actually, we trust them so much that we have often tried foods for the first time, or given certain foods, that we thought we didn't like (calamari), a second chance, because we know it will be prepared properly and we will get the best sampling of that food, like my daughter's first experience with lamb. (She has decided that she loves lamb!) Boardwalk Bistro is far from cheap, actually it's pretty pricey -- a splurge kind of place -- but you get what you pay for.

P F Chang's -- Corpus Christi, TX

Okay, I know, the long awaited P F Chang's at La Palmera Mall has been around long enough for everyone in town to become familiar with their cuisine and atmosphere. So why am I doing a review? Because there is something you may not know about our P F Chang's. A little secret that I'm going to share with just you, so don't spread it around, because we don't want too many to know about this.

It's the bar. Yes, I said the bar. Rob and I wandered in one night and decided that we would eat at the bar, because the last time we were in we had been seated next to a table of very loud, very cheery, very inebriated young ladies, and then there was the demanding child at another table. We had stopped in at the bar on a previous visit, for a glass of wine after Christmas shopping, and it had been so quiet and pleasant that on this trip we decided that we would just have our meal there.

We sat on the back side of the bar. It has a larger serving area and you can't see the tv's unless you're right in the middle of the bar (you know how I feel about televisions when I'm eating out). We were served by Bobby. Now this is the juicy little secret: Bobby, Miranda, and John. The three of them working together are a HOOT! They are funny, attentive and they play off of each other like a well rehearsed vaudeville act. Now, you need to know that on weekend nights, when you're most likely to find all three of them working together, you want to get there fairly early, because the place becomes a madhouse after about about 6:30 p.m. and they don't have as much time to cut up and entertain the folks at the bar.

We have since been in on a week night when John was the only one of the three working and once on a Friday, during the really busy time, when Miranda and Bobby were working. They are great together, but still a lot of fun on their own. Even with the bar and restaurant full and drink orders coming in at a fevered pitch. Bobby and Miranda stopped by to interact with us and kept an eye on our glasses to be sure that one of them would be there before a glass was empty. Very efficient! And each one has made suggestions on food and wine that were spot on.

If you're looking for a friendly place where you can stop in for a drink and/or have dinner in a pleasant atmosphere, P F Chang's bar won't disappoint. You know the food, now you know the best spot in the place to eat it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Alexander's Steakhouse -- Corpus Christi, TX

Alexander's Steakhouse is a brand new restaurant in Corpus Christi, located at 5013 Everhart, in the old Gallagers restaurant building. It has a definite Greek theme, showcased in blues and golds, yet I'm not sure they've realized their true identity yet. The decor and the staff present themselves as decidedly formal, yet there are televisions mounted on the walls. That may not bother you, but I hate televisions in restaurants, even very casual restaurants. Personally, if I want to watch TV while I eat, I'll eat at home. Bars are fine, but restaurants, no, and especially not in a "formal" setting! But, before I leave you with an ugly picture of the place, I found out as we were leaving that the televisions are only in one room, and you can request to be seated in another. Those of you who remember Gallagers or have eaten at any of the restaurants that followed in that location, the building is divided into several rooms.

The waiter arrived with bread and asked for our drink orders. We asked for the wine list. He told us that the bar is not yet open, but he could bring us a complimentary glass of red or white wine. That was our choice, so we went with it. I sampled the bread and thought it a bit dry, even with butter. I tried to keep my eyes from straying to the basketball game above my head, while I perused the extensive menu (did I mention that I hate televisions in restaurants?). I expected to see more Greek choices, given the theme, and had I been looking forward to Greek, I may have been disappointed, but I was thinking seafood. The menu is divided into four sections (not necessarily arranged the same in each menu): Steak Lovers, Seafood Lovers, Texas Lovers (chicken fried steak, etc), and I don't recall the heading of the last section, but it listed several Greek dishes and Italian dishes among other specialties. Rob decided on the ten ounce ribeye and I chose the grilled salmon. We saw on the menu that the dinners came with a choice of soup or salad, choice of vegetables, and choice of potato. We had to ask what those choices were, because we could not find them listed on the menu.

We both chose salad with the Feta Cheese Vinaigrette. The salad was very basic -- lettuce, two wedges of tomato, and two slices of cucumber -- but the dressing was very nice, and plentiful. Just as we finished our salads, our food arrived and we dug right in. Now, I know you have to give a little slack to a new restaurant as they work out the kinks, but my baked potato was overdone. You know the kind: skin is shriveled and dry, along with about a quarter inch of potato that's attached to it. I'm one of those people who like to eat the potato skin, well, not this time. Rob had chosen the California vegetables (a squash medley) and fries with his meal. I chose corn. We both got corn, but with good reason. The waiter said that there were some fresh vegetables almost ready to come out and he didn't like the looks of what had been sitting in the warmer, so he brought Rob corn and would bring the other as soon as they were ready. (Too bad he didn't feel that way about my potato.) Rob declined and said that he would be fine with the corn (even though it was obviously out of a can).

Enough about what was not good. What was good were the meat portions of our dishes. Rob's steak and my salmon were generous cuts, nicely seasoned and grilled to our liking. Both were moist and had great flavor that helped to make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the meal. And, Robs steak fries had some crunch. That was a plus.

I stated before that Alexander's tries to present itself as a fine dining establishment. I don't think it quite lives up to that expectation. The food is definitely not gourmet, but overall, it's not bad for a moderately priced restaurant. If they raised the quality of their side dishes up to that of the entrees and our waiter, they may come closer to achieving that "fine dining" status.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Become a Follower GIVEAWAY!!!

We are giving away a $25 gift certificate to Katz 21 Steak & Spirits in Corpus Christi, TX! To qualify to receive this prize, you must sign up to be a follower of the Everyday Couple Eating Out blog. If you live in Corpus Christi, the surrounding area, or just visit once in a while, sign up now! Deadline is April 9, 2011. On April 10 we will draw a name from our list of followers and notify the winner.

A little info on the gift certificate: This is a Restaurant.com gift certificate with no expiration date. Valid for Dinner only, minimum purchase of $50, dine-in. It is not valid for taxes or tips and excludes alcohol and other offers/promotions.

Katz 21 Steaks & Spirits -- Corpus Christi, TX

Katz 21 Steaks & Spirts is located at 317 Mesquite Street, Corpus Christi, TX, in the downtown area (www.katz21.com). The moment you walk up to Katz, you feel welcome and important. Just before we reached the door it swung open and we were greeted warmly with "Welcome to Katz." The doorman then proceeded to guide us to the reception desk where we were greeted again. We informed the two lovely young ladies that we had a reservation and one of them led us to our table. On the way to our table every staff member we passed greeted us, and again welcomed us to Katz. The interior is paneled is rich dark woods and elegantly trimmed. We were guided to our table in a booth that was all but completely private. High walls divide the booths and the various sections of the restaurant, so that wherever you sit you never feel like you're in a large impersonal space.

Our server, Alisa, introduced herself and told us about the night's special. She was very pleasant and informative. Considering the atmosphere, you might expect the waitstaff to be a bit stuffy. Not at all. Alisa was quite personable and we enjoyed her. As we perused the menus, bread arrived at the table -- a very nice white bread with a crunchy crust, served with real butter. I love real butter! The menu prices are on the higher side and everything is separate (salad, entree, sides, etc) so be prepared (as we were with our $25.00 coupon). I ordered a Greek Salad and the Pesca al Forno. Rob ordered a Ceasar Salad and the 6 oz Filet of Beef with a Baked Potato. They were out of the wine I ordered, so Alisa brought me a better one.

I love Greek Salads and this one is the best I've ever had. Large chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, and black olives piled up on a small bed of various lettuces, dressed with a wonderful vinaigrette and liberally sprinkled with an herbed feta cheese. I was regretting having ordered anything else. The salad was huge and delicious. When my entree arrived I almost asked for the to-go box right then! The prices may be up there, but you get your money's worth. A filet of tilapia about the size of a small sedan lay across the plate. It was topped with crabmeat, two large shrimp, olives and capers. Next to it lay a medley of squash, zucchini and carrot. I was glad I had not ordered a side, yet Alisa showed up a minute or two later with another dish and informed me that the chef told her the the Pesca al Forno was now being accompanied with a rice pilaf. I could have fed two other people with this dish. As it turned out, we actually had enough of my entree left over for both of us to have dinner the next night! My first bite tasted a little salty and I relayed that to Alisa, who offered to have the chef remake the dish. I declined, explaining that I've been on a low sodium diet and I might be sensitive. Rob tasted it and didn't think it was salty at all. So, it was just me. The fish was nicely cooked, tender and moist but not fishy tasting. The shrimp were perfect. I could not finish even a third of the fish, nevermind the rice and everything else on the dish.

Rob's steak was served with the same vegetable medley as my dish. His potato was served on a separate dish and was quite large. The steak was cooked perfectly. I had a taste and commented that I liked the seasoning, especially the fact that it wasn't heavily seasoned. He said that he usually preferred more seasoning on his steak, but this was such good quality beef that it didn't need more seasoning. He had his potato completely dressed, sans the sour cream, and it must have been good, because he put quite a dent in it.

As Alisa arrived with to-go boxes (she read my mind) on a tray (classy), and boxed up the leftovers, she asked if we wanted dessert. Rob asked if they had chocolate. She told us about their Godiva Cheesecake that she said, "will change your life!" I believe she called it "sin on a plate." She also said that they had a flourless chocolate torte, but I'd had that before. I went with the Godiva Cheesecake and I do believe my life has been changed. Creamy, rich chocolate cheesecake encased in Godiva chocolate, served on a pool of raspberry sauce. Absolutely amazing, and worth every decadent calorie!

Katz is not going to be your everyday, run of the mill date night restaurant, but for the special occasion it is the perfect place. The staff treat you as if you are the most important people to walk in that night. The food is excellent, and although you're spending more than you normally would, you won't feel as if your money was wasted.

We understand that Katz will be moving later this year to the old Trend House building on Esplanade. According to our server, it will have patio dining as well as an elegant interior and live music. We're looking forward to it!

We are giving away a $25 gift certificate to Katz to one lucky "follower" of our blog. If you are not yet a "follower," become one now! (Winner will be announced April 10, 2011).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lisa Bella's Bistro and Java Bar -- Port Aransas, TX

Lisa Bella's, 224 E. Cotter Ave, is not a restaurant you visit in a hurry. The atmosphere and the service are relaxed, which is fine for us. After a 45 minute drive to Port Aransas the last thing we want is to rush through dinner. I'm sorry that there are no pictures this time, but Lisa Bella's Bistro is not the type of place where you whip out your cell phone and start snapping. It is an intimate place with only about a dozen tables, so that kind of thing sort of sticks out. So, I hope I don't mess up any details, since I have no pictures to refer to nor a menu online to glance at.

A little history. This was not our first trip to Lisa Bella's. On previous trips we were encouraged to bring our own wine and they would serve it for us, even chilling the white wine. We noticed the last time we were there that there was a notice posted in the window that the restaurant had applied for a liquor license.  Remembering that, we called ahead to see if we should bring our own wine. They told us that they had their license, but if we preferred to bring our own, there would be a $15 corking fee per bottle. Not worth it to us, particularly after finding that they offer some very decent wines. I got the impression that they serve only imported beer as I did not see a domestic in sight, but I could be wrong. Personally, I thought it was a unique and charming aspect of the restaurant to bring our own wine, and wish they had not changed.

Enough of that, on to the food! We had a Groupon.com coupon, so we went all out. We started with an appetizer of Panchetta wrapped Gulf Shrimp. Again, no picture, but the presentation of each dish was beautiful and mouth watering. On a colorful plate we received three large gulf shrimp wrapped in panchetta and drizzled with a honey chipotle glaze. It was beautiful and delicious. The shrimp were plump and nicely prepared. The glaze was sweet with just enough chipotle to give it a kick.

For starters I had the Espincada Salad. Baby spinach with dried currants and walnuts, tossed with goat cheese dressing and topped with slices of green apple. Simple and fantastic. Rob had the Mermaid soup. The description read "Lobster, shrimp, scallops, secrets." It was light and didn't taste fishy or too briny, which is a good thing in my book.

I ordered the Crabcakes. Now, if you've ever made crabcakes, or eaten them in just about any other restaurant, you know that you mix a bunch of ingredients together, form the cakes, fry them up and hope that the crab shines through. Well, no, not a Lisa Bella's. I don't know how they got the cakes to stay together long enough to cook, but the only thing I found in my crabcakes was blue crab meat. It was lightly breaded with what I believe was seasoned panko breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. There were two crabcakes on the plate sitting atop a light creamy sauce and topped with a mango salsa. The sides included coconut jasmine rice and green beans. The green beans were sauteed with garlic and the rice had just a light coconut flavor. Very nice! Rob had the Salmon for his entree. The fish was beautifully prepared and sat in a shallow pool of coconut curry sauce.  The flavors were sublime. This dish was also accompanied by green beans and coconut jasmine rice.

We were on a roll so we ordered dessert; Chocolate Cake. I don't know what the formal name was as we just kinda told the guy, "we want the chocolate cake like she had." Well, it was chocolate. I mean really, really chocolate! Just like I like it!

Lisa Bella's is always a treat. It is definitely worth the drive to Port Aransas. If you're visiting on a Friday or Saturday evening we recommend that you make a reservation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shockley Market - Corpus Chrisit, TX

The food is upscale, but the prices are not. Shockley Market is a small bistro style restaurant located in the Village at 3815 S. Alameda (www.shockleymarket.com), on the corner of Doddridge and S. Alameda. The atmosphere is bright and cheery with a casual elegance. Shockley Market serves lunch and dinner using locally harvested vegetables and Gulf caught seafood.

It is evident that the chef and owner, Doan Shockley, has a real respect for the home cook. The tables are covered with handwritten and newspaper clipped recipes. The menus are cookbook covers and include such items as Meatloaf (Mamaw's special) and Chicken Pot Pie, mixed in with Tenderloin au Poivre and Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon! There is literally something for everyone, and at prices that are reasonable.

We asked for Laurel, who has served us before, and is a delightful young woman with a great sense of humor and she is well versed in the menu and wine list. Not only that, but she remembered us several weeks later, after waiting on us once. This night we had trouble deciding. Should we go with a favorite, or try one of the few dishes we'd not had yet? With Laurel's help we decided to go with something new. We both chose the Soup du Jour over salad. It was a thick rich beef and vegetable stew, served in a china cup along with a bowl containing small rolls that are sweet and fluffy.

For my main dish I decided to go for the Pork Tenderloin, five large tenderloin medallions covered with dried fruit in a port wine sauce. I also had the Lemon Potatoes and Asparagus sides. The pork was moist and tender and the sauce was sweet, but not syrupy. A generous amount of raisins and other dried fruits added to the rich flavor of the sauce and was the perfect accompaniment to the pork. The Lemon Potatoes were a little unusual and took a little getting used to in those first few bites, but before I knew it, they were gone. The Asparagus was crisp, just the way I like it.

Rob settled on the Lasagna, which is described as beef and Italian sausage in tomato cream sauce with three cheeses. So, we expected a square of Lasagna with a meaty sauce. No. First there is enough to feed us both in a large oval dish that spans the diagonal of the plate. It is piping hot and cheese just drips from his fork as he lifts his first bite. I reached over to get a bite and I come up with mostly meat. The flavor is savory with a little crunch left in the sauce's vegetables, just to let you know that it's made fresh. Very nice. For his sides, Rob chose the Green Beans and Asparagus. This is his way of testing the chef. Rob will only eat his green beans one way, crisp. No overcooked green beans for him. He was satisfied.

We had no room for dessert, but from past experience, I can tell you that all of Shockley Market's desserts are wonderful.

Some of our favorite dishes at Shockley Market are the Tomato, Onion, and Goat Cheese Tart, the Fish and Shrimp Tacos and the Boeuf Bourguignon. I cannot say enough good about Shockley Market. Rob and I have tried nearly everything on the menu at this point, and we've never had a bad meal.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

La Playa Mexican Cafe -- Corpus Christi, TX

Complimentary Tortilla chips with two salsas
Another restaurant we frequent is La Playa Mexican Cafe at 7118 SPID (http://laplayacafe.com/). There are other locations for La Playa in Corpus Christi: 5017 Saratoga, and 4201 SPID. Now these other two are labeled La Playa Restaurant and they are much larger than the cafe, but we prefer the quieter, more relaxed setting of the cafe over the restaurant locations.



Rob and I usually order the Tacos al Carbon. There are two large tacos on the plate, so we order one plate, extra sides and guacamole. I take the plate, give him one taco and pile guacamole and pico de gallo on top of my taco. So good! This evening, though, for the sake of the blog, we decided to try something different. Rob had heard that their seafood was good and we had not explored that part of the menu. So, we dove in.

Rob ordered the Fish or Shrimp Tacos. Since the plate comes with two tacos, Rob asked for one fish and one shrimp. Of course the traditional Mexican rice and refried beans completed the plate. The tacos contained grilled fish/shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. He liked the flavor of the fish, though it was mild and he felt like it needed something more, so he took the lemon from his water glass and added a squeeze to each taco. He like them much better with the lemon, and thought they should add a lemon wedge to the plate. We later realized, after viewing our pictures, that the something more those tacos needed was the "creamy lemon sauce" that the menu description promised.



I had the Shrimp Stuffed Avocado. I have enjoyed the chicken stuffed avocado before, so I was looking forward to this. It's an avocado half stuffed with shrimp and cheese, lightly breaded and fried. This is accompanied by a fish taco, Mexican rice, refried beans and a cup of tortilla soup. I was a bit disappointed with my dish. My taco also needed something more, and I gave it a squeeze of lemon which helped a lot. Though it's not promised in the description, I imagine the fish taco would be quite delicious with the lemon sauce. My stuffed avocado also let me down. It was rather bland, even with all the cheese, and the shrimp were a little tough. I guess the extra heat from frying overcooked them a little. The tortilla soup should be called tortilla mushroom soup. The flavor was pretty good, but I'm not that crazy about mushrooms which seems to be the main substance of this soup.

I feel bad having to give La Playa Mexican Cafe a bad review, but even in the best restaurant you're going to get a meal, now and then, that just doesn't live up to expectations. Although this trip was disappointing, we will return to La Playa, because they do have really good food, too. My favorites there are the Tacos al Carbon and their Chicken Soup.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yoshi Zushi -- Corpus Christi, TX

Wednesday night we met a bunch of friends for dinner at Yoshi Zushi, (5898 Everhart, http://www.yoshizushi.net/menu.html). This is not your typical Asian restaurant. Where most serve Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, Yoshi serves all three plus sushi. This was my first visit and I don't know why I've not heard anything about it before. It seems to be quite popular judging from the crowd it draws on a Wednesday night. We found the atmosphere to be comfortable with a lean towards elegance.

Rob and I shared two dishes. One off of their sushi specialty rolls menu, the Corpus Christi Roll. This roll is normally $12, but is $8 on the Happy Hour menu. Crab, avocado, cream cheese, with salmon, tempura fried, and topped w/ eel sauce, and spicy mayo. Yum! Eight slices made for a hefty appetizer. We shared a couple of pieces with others at the table who did not realize that not all sushi is raw fish. Our second, or main dish was Teriyaki Chicken off of the Japanese menu. This dish was serve with the chicken cut into strips, the vegetables to one side of the plate and the teriyaki sauce poured over all. The chicken was tender and the vegetables crisp, just the way I like them. We went with the white rice. Fried rice is also available for an extra $2. I like to make an attempt at using the chopsticks. The way the chicken was cut made handling it with chopsticks a bit difficult and there was no knife for cutting, although a fork did accompany the dish. Rob got the fork, so I struggled a little, but I managed to eat my fair share (I stole the fork to eat rice . . .ssh!).


Being with a group, we got the opportunity to get some feedback on a wide range of dishes. One of the dishes that another shared with us was from the appetizer menu. The Garlic Edamame. They steam the edamame with salt and garlic. Very simple and very delicious! As you slide the hull between your teeth, releasing the soy beans into your mouth, you get a marvelous essence of salt and garlic that is very satisfying. Everyone at our table enjoyed their food. No one had a complaint.

I have to say up front that the lovely Stephanie, who was our server, is the daughter of one of our friends in party. I think she was simply wonderful, but I may be a little biased. I can comment in general that the waitstaff was friendly and accomodating; even willing to move large divider planters to add another table to ours. I asked Stephanie for a to go sushi menu and another waiter spent several minutes trying to print one out for me because they had none on hand. Of course, as technology can be very finicky, he was having a great deal of trouble, and even when I told him I would just access it online, he still tried. I thought I would have to tie his hands to get him to quit. It was not to be and he did stop trying after a while.

 We would recommend Yoshi, if only for the specialty rolls. Though I cannot say that the food was spectacular, it was good and we will certainly be back.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Van's Barbecue -- Oakville, TX

Van's is the quintessential barbecue joint. It has even made the rankings of Texas Monthly. Located on I-37, almost exactly halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi (exit 65), it's a great place to take a break from the trip. Van's is open from 7am to 7pm, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The menu is simple, and straight forward. It's also on the wall. There's the Country Breakfast which includes, two eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns (not the grated stuff you'll get in most places, think real pan fried potatoes), a large biscuit and a cup of gravy. For an extra charge, you can get a slab of grilled ham (my favorite) or link sausage (Rob's favorite), and not those little bitty links others offer -- we're talking a real link of sausage! There's an array of condiments set on your table to accompany your breakfast, including honey, salsa, butter and jelly, and coffee is ever-flowing. Of course, if you'd rather, you can get a breakfast taco, or a sausage link wrapped up in a tortilla, but I recommend going for the full treatment.

There is no distinction between lunch and dinner. You can have a plate or a sandwich. Meat choices include sliced beef brisket, chopped beef, sausage, and ribs. A plate is actually served on butcher paper. Only breakfast comes on a plate. The "plate" consists of your choice of meat, potato salad, a cup of beans, a cup of sauce, a large slice of onion, half of a jalapeno, two slices of bread and a dill pickle wedge. The barbecue is always tender and delicious, and if you're still hungry after eating all of that, they'll bring you more.

The best thing about Van's is that it's so laid back. So much so, that on your first visit, you might want to turn around a leave due to the first impression that the place offers. Yes, those are cobwebs in the corners and the walls are dingy and even Texas Monthly states that they doubt the floor has ever been mopped, but don't leave. Trust me, the tables and all of the important things are clean. Rob and I have been eating there at least once a month, for I don't know how many years and, not only is their food consistently good, we've never suffered any illness after eating at Van's.

The atmosphere is welcoming and friendly. I would recommend dining on the weekend if you want the best experience. It's great anytime, of course, but you're more likely to run into Marty and/or Jennifer on the weekends. These are our favorite waitresses at Van's and they have been there longer than any of the others. Jennifer is a teacher and Van's is her second job. She is about as friendly as they come. She always has a smile on her face and a sweet disposition. Marty is a little more colorful. Marty is an older woman, but I would never call her elderly. She is probably in her eighties, and she's little rough around the corners, but she's fun and lovable. She'll be the one sporting the bright red or yellow cowboy hat, calling everyone "honey." Both of these ladies will take great care of you and make sure you get plenty to eat and drink. It's like having your best buddy's mom waiting on you.

Van's is a treasure. It's not fancy, heck it's not even the cleanest place around, but it is the friendliest and you'll not regret stopping in.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Snapka's Drive In -- Corpus Christi, TX.

This is our stop-for-lunch-on-the-way-home-from-church place. Snapka's is a burger joint. A drive-in burger joint. A drive-in, where the car-hop (translated: waitress) comes to your car, burger joint. It's been around since the late 40's and it's still going strong. They also have seating inside, if you prefer. There are two in town: Snapka's Drive-In #2 at 4760 Leopard and Snapka's Drive-In #3 at 4434 Weber (don't ask me about #1, I don't know).

I can't speak for the Leopard location. Rob and I always eat at #3. They serve Burgers, of course, Tacos, Chalupas, Enchiladas, Fish Sandwich, Chicken Sandwich, Chef Salad, Grilled Cheese and much, much more. I usually get the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. A juicy chicken breast on a bun, dressed with mayo, lettuce and tomato. I always ask for pickles, just because I really like pickles. Always get the basket! The basket includes the sandwich and either fries or onion rings, or a combination of both. For the longest time, Rob would order onion rings and I would get fries. Here's a little something you should know. Get the combination in each basket, because you'll wind up with nearly a full serving of each!

Now, just a word about the fries. I love the fries at Snapka's, because they do them right. They are crinkle cut and fried up to a beautiful golden brown, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They are not greasy at all, just perfect! The onion rings are really good, too. They are so crunchy and contain a large slice of sweet onion.

Rob usually gets a burger. The burgers come in two sizes. If you order the Burger Basket, you'll get the smaller size, which is plenty for either of us, considering all of the fries and onion rings stacked next to it, in the basket, but if you have a really big appetite, go for the Dixie Burger. It's about twice the size of the regular burger. Both burgers are your basic meat patty with mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion. Of course, they'll add or subtract ingredients to suit you, and it's always good.

Other items we've tried we have to give mixed reviews on. One of Rob's favorites is the Steak Sandwich, though he always regrets having it later (his system, not anything wrong with the sandwich). I really like their Tacos, and I've heard good things about the Chalupas, but if you're looking for a good Mexican Plate (Enchiladas, Rice and Beans), head across the street. Snapka's is not the best place for enchiladas. They do have the best shakes around, though, made with Blue Bell Ice Cream, so you know that's going to be worth the trip all by itself!

The waitresses are friendly, and will visit with you with little encouragement. They will make sure everything is to your liking, and will probably recognize you if you venture in a second time. The atmosphere is cheerful and still has some of the old charm from the era of the Car-Hop. We recommend you give it a try and let us know what menu items you like most.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

La Fogata Grill -- Corpus Christi, TX

This one is quickly becoming a favorite for us. La Fogata Grill (no relation to La Fogata in San Antonio, which is also a wonderful restaurant), has only been opened a few months. It is located at 6646 S. Staples, formerly The Sultan, and serves upscale Mexican Cuisine. This was our third visit to La Fogata Grill, and I can honestly say that we have not had one bad meal there.

The atmosphere is relaxed and casual, yet refined. The waitstaff is friendly and accommodating. Ariana was our waitperson. She has been there since the beginning of The Sultan's days. She has a good knowledge of the food and she's willing to make suggestions to those of us who have difficulty making up our minds. She started us off with the traditional chips and salsa, but the salsa at La Fogata Grill is not what you'll get in the typical Mexican restaurant. This salsa is dark and smoky made from roasted tomatoes and peppers. It has a bite, but not so much that you can't load up those wonderfully light tortilla chips and enjoy its rich flavor.

This night, I was determined to have something new. I have never eaten duck, and decided it was time I did because the Duck Enchilada just sounded so darned good! Rob went with the Spicy Shrimp Diablo. Now, let me just say that Chef Phillips knows what she's doing! First we'll discuss the Duck Enchilada. The menu description: Slow roasted duck confit in chile ancho sauce, stacked between corn tortillas and topped with Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, tomatillo sauce and jicama slaw. This little stack of awesomeness is served in a moat of slightly tangy blackbeans. Now, the tangyness of the beans may be contributed to the tomatillo sauce running into them and infusing them with new flavors. The duck is shredded and so abundant that I had trouble finding the tortillas. I did find, though, that I like duck; at least in this application. The flavor of the duck was more delicate than I had expected for a dark meat fowl, but the sauces did not overpower. They were applied lightly, not too spicy and did their job of enhancing the flavor of the duck quite well, as did the cheeses. Muy bueno!

Rob's Spicy Shrimp Diablo features chipotle and orange marinated shrimp, sauteed with peppers, garlic, tomatoes and green onions served over rice. According to Rob (no, I didn't eat his shrimp, but I did take a bite of the rice), the shrimp was perfectly cooked and lightly spicy (translation for the average person: moderately spicy) and the lightly sauteed vegetables still had a crispyness to them, just like he likes. The whole mixture was is served atop a bed of rice that clings to the flavors that have been infused into the oil during sauteing. He's had this dish before and said that this time there was a bit more oil in the bottom of the dish than last time, but it was still very good. He says that he wouldn't consider it their best dish, but he did enjoy it.

Ariana suggested the Capirotada for dessert. We asked about other desserts on the menu, but the others are not produced in house, so we took her suggestion. The Capirotada is a wonderful bread pudding with cranberries and apple in a sweet brandy sauce that is served on a fajita skillet sizzling as the brandy sauce and sugar combine and caramelize on the hot iron. Not only is it a spectacularly simple presentation, but the dish itself is melt in you mouth delicious! Just a hint of cinnamon combines with the bits of cranberry and apple to send your taste buds straight into ecstasy! Even Rob, who dislikes -- no hates -- bread pudding, thoroughly enjoyed this dish, and said he would order again. Be warned, though, we received an ample serving that is plenty for two, or even three.

According to Ariana, Chef Phillips has been with La Fogata Grill from the beginning and was the chef for the Sultan. Having never eaten at The Sultan, I cannot comment on her abilities for Mediterranean cuisine, but it seems she has found her niche with Mexican. If I understood correctly, she is from here and studied culinary arts in San Antonio, She worked for a time at Biga on the Banks there. Evidently, she returned here when her father became ill, to care for him. However she made her way here, we are certainly fortunate to have her.

We highly recommend La Fogata Grill. In addition to the specialties that I've mentioned, they have a full menu of more classic Mexican dishes, all reasonably priced in the $7 to $10 range. Specialty dishes range from $11 to $21. They have a full bar including a fair range of wines and a nice variety of beers (not just your typical domestics).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Watermark Grill - San Antonio, Tx

To think we almost passed up this gem for a chain steakhouse. I'm so glad we didn't! Rob and I had one more evening in San Antonio and chose the Watermark Grill (18740 Stone Oak Pkwy, San Antonio, Tx, http://www.watermarkgrill.net). We had looked up the menu online, thought it was a bit limited, and discussed whether we might want to just go to Saltgrass for a basic steak and potatoes dinner, but we decided to give Watermark Grill a try.

It was a Sunday night, and therefore slow, so no reservations were necessary. As the hostess seated us, Rob pulled out my chair for me, like he always does, and the hostess commented on that. I explained that for 19 years he's done that. Rob then mentioned that our 19th anniversary was Tuesday and she congratulated us. We thought the restaurant's interior was quite elegant. Though there was no real crowd, we noticed that we were not able to listen in on the neighboring table, as they talked in normal voices. I liked that because it means they are not able to listen to our conversations either.

We were provided with the wine list and menus by a lovely young lady. We placed the order for our wines and decided on our meals while she fetched them. We both decided to go with the "prix fixe" at a cost of $35 each, as neither of us have a large appetite, and we both love dessert. I went with the Seared Nantucket Sea Scallops for my appetizer, Olive Tapenade Alaskan Halibut for the main course. Dessert was a Lavender CrĂ©me Brulee. Now, I must have been feeling a little adventurous, because I usually don't like scallops, but I now know why. I've never had them cooked properly before. The appetizer included two large scallops seared beautifully (which is my way of saying they were not rubbery at all), topped with Vegetable Mariniere (a sprinkling of  very finely chopped carrot and celery that were used in the preparation) and served on Basil Risotto and Parsley Anis Sauce. More evidence of my daring nature, as risotto is rarely served properly al dente. This was! The scallops were a bit briney eaten alone, but when eaten along with the risotto they achieved a nice balance, and the flavors in the sauce were a beautiful compliment. The halibut was so delicate and could have been easily overwhelmed, but again, the accompanying flavors made for a perfect marriage. It was served with rock shrimp and asparagus. Living on the coast, here, we tend to become shrimp snobs. So, imagine my surprise when I'm served perfectly cooked shrimp in a San Antonio restaurant! They were scattered in a light tomato sauce and the halibut lay across a raft of asparagus. The only critical statement I can make about the dish is that the thicker end of the fish was oh so slightly underdone, but past that point it was amazing.

Rob had the Velvet Lobster Bisque with Lobster Fennel Dumpling for his appetizer and the Braised Chianti Beef Short Ribs served on Gorgonzola French Toast with Asparagus Parmesan. The bisque was a little oily, which surprised us, but the flavor was wonderful (yes, I tasted his food). I'm not real crazy about Gorgonzola cheese, but tasted the french toast anyway and was surprised, once again, that the cheese did not overwhelm the dish. The short rib sat on the french toast, so I had another bite with the meat and chianti sauce. Well, it was just about the best thing that has every crossed these lips! The meat was so tender and the sauce so rich, combined with the french toast . . . heavenly. Needless to say we were both quite pleased with our dinners, but the meal was not over yet.

I asked our server to hold our dessert while we finished our wine. As we did, I watched the dessert chef fill a piping bag with chocolate ganache. I wondered what dessert he was preparing, since we had not been told about any dessert containing chocolate. I did not have to wonder long. As we took the last sips of our wine, our server approached with two glasses of champagne and a tray, drizzled with chocolate, bearing four Chocolate Dipped Strawberries. On the tray sat a white chocolate card with "Happy Anniversary" written across it in gold script. Such a lovely surprise!

After finishing our strawberries and champagne our creme brulee arrived . . . flaming! The aroma of the caramelizing sugar was fantastic. I expected the lavender to be more pronounced, but it was just a nuance of the luscious cream dessert. Our coffee announced its arrival with its own wonderful aroma just as we were breaking into the sugar shell.

All in all it, was a wonderful experience. During our dinner we were visited by the manager, checking to see that everything was to our liking, and the dessert chef visited, to wish us happy anniversary, as we devoured our strawberries. The waitstaff were all personable and professional. It was such an enjoyable evening and we highly recommend the Watermark Grill (especially on your anniversary!).

Update: Watermark Grill has closed.