Saturday, July 21, 2012

Havana Club/Bleu Bistro -- Corpus Christi, TX

Today's post is a little bit of a journey, so stay with us. Rob had recently expressed a desire for me to plan a date night. I agreed to, and had been trying to come up with something special -- someplace we hadn't been before, something new and exciting. A good friend of mine suggested that Rob and I try the Havana Club (500 N. Water St., 361-882-5552). "Friday night is Salsa Night," she said. We have never been to the Havana Club, so I looked it up online. I wasn't able to find a website, but I did find several reviews and descriptions that spanned the last few years. One of the descriptions reported that they offered tapas. "Perfect!" I thought. Rob likes latin inspired music, and with a romantic atmosphere and tapas, what could go wrong?

We walked into this eclectic, part rustic, part elegant room carved out of an old bank vault. There was no one at the hostess station to seat us, and it quickly became apparent that this was really a bar, but no worries. Bars sometimes serve food, too. We started toward a booth, but found they were large enough to seat eight people comfortably. We chose a table, and realized that the only staff was a lone bartender, so we moved to the bar. We ordered wine and asked for a menu. The bartender, Cade, informed us that they didn't serve tapas anymore, though they were in the process of bringing them back.

Date night was not shaping up as I had envisioned. We discussed what our options were. Should we just go elsewhere, or go next door to Bleu Bistro? Bleu is the new version of 500 Bistro that I had reviewed in March of last year. During a recent visit to the bar at Bleu Bistro we learned that ownership had changed, but the same chef was preparing what appeared to be mostly the same menu. If you read that review of 500 Bistro, you would know that I was not really excited about having dinner next door. Cade informed us that the previous chef of Bleu recently quit. This is the reason their tapas menu of Cuban inspired foods had been delayed, but there is a new chef at Bleu who is working on it. He offered us the appetizer menu for their sister restaurant, and told us we could take our wine with us if we wanted to move next door to eat. We decided that we would give the new chef a chance. Cade suggested the tenderloin and the lamb.

We finished our wine and walked next door. We decided to sit at the bar because, in most cases, you get to have interaction with staff that you aren't able to have at a table. This bartender was not as personable as Cade. Oh well, he was efficient. We looked at the menu and decided that the prices made our decision a little risky. Yes, there is a new chef, but he's preparing the same dishes as the old chef, and what if the recipes are the problem? There wasn't exactly a huge crowd in the place, so we thought we'd just finish our wine and walk across the street to the sushi bar. As we're working on the wine and noshing on a fancy plate of bar chips, Cade comes up from behind, and sets between us an appetizer plate of two large seared scallops on little pillows of whipped potatoes. He says, "I asked the chef if he'd prepare something for you to try, this is on us." Okay, we were definitely not expecting that! Nor were we expecting the flavors and textures that hit our mouths. The scallops were beautifully prepared, seared and topped with tiny, tender bits of bacon with a citrus sauce drizzled over top. Just a hint of garlic teased our tongues as we savored the perfect texture of the scallops. Yeah, we asked for the menu back.
Oysters on the Half Shell

We ordered oysters on the half shell and the Seared Salmon to share. The six oysters were large and briney. Our bartender had set us up with horseradish, saltines, lemon wedges and Tabasco. I love it when staff anticipates all that a customer will need for a dish. At most places we have to request the horseradish and Tabasco. We dressed up our oysters to our liking and slurped away.

The Seared Salmon arrived sitting atop whipped potatoes and accompanied by haricot verts (fancy french words for green string beans). The salmon was lightly seasoned with a blend of spice and herbs then seared to give it a nice, delicately crisp crust. My first bite was just a flake off of the top and seemed a little salty, but when I sliced through the full thickness of the fish I found the flavors to be in delicious balance. In my previous review of 500 Bistro, I stated that the potatoes tasted as if they could have been made from processed flakes. Well, the potatoes I enjoyed last night were real and they were creamy and they just melted in my mouth. The beans were equally enjoyable. They were dark green in color, cooked well with just enough crunch left in them.

After dinner we happily sauntered back over to the Havana Club, where the night's band was setting up and tuning for later in the evening. There was none of the happy hour crowd left, so we had Cade all to ourselves. We thanked him for the scallops and reported that we had just decided to go elsewhere when he brought them to us, and how that dish had changed our minds. It was at this point that he told us that when the previous chef left he suggested his friend, Chef David Graham, for the position, clarifying why he went to the trouble of having the chef prepare something for us. He told us, too, that Havana Club should be serving tapas (from the same kitchen as Bleu) in about a month. The menus, he said, are at the printers. I can hardly wait to try the plantain dishes he described!

What looked to be a poorly planned date night turned into an evening of pleasant surprises. We are looking forward to returning to the Havana Club to try the new tapas menu, and we happily recommend Bleu Bistro as a great date night destination. Bleu Bistro is a bit pricey, but the food is now worth paying a little more. Thanks, Cristina, for your date night suggestion!

(I wish I had been able to include more pictures, but as you can see from the picture of the oysters,  the lighting didn't lend itself to taking pictures with an iphone.)

FYI: I've changed the settings to make commenting on our posts easier.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dragonfly Restaurant & Curacao Blues -- Corpus Christi, TX

The Dragonfly Restaurant, located across the JFK bridge on Padre Island, at 14701 S Padre Island Dr,(361-949-2224) has been a favorite of ours for some time. Not to say that they don't have their off days, but those are rare. This particular night they were spot on. We like to eat early -- to avoid traffic and crowds -- so we arrived just a few minutes after 5:00 p.m., which is opening time for dinner. Of course, we were seated promptly.

Our waiter, Romeo, introduced himself and recited the special, which sounded wonderful -- Grilled Tuna Steak with a Garlic Potato Flash. We ordered our wine, and kept the special in mind as we looked through the menu. The dinner menu is divided in two sections -- World Tour by Land which features beef, pork, lamb and chicken dishes of various countries, and World Tour by Sea, featuring, you guessed it, seafood dishes from around the world. We opted for our favorite menu items. For Rob, the Shrimp Skewer with Coconut Sambal Sauce (Malaysia -- $19.95), and I ordered the Crab Cake with Remoulade (USA -- $18.95)
Curacao Blues, the bar, as you enter Dragonfly
Rob's shrimp were tender, smoky and flavorful. Topped with a spicy Coconut Sambal Sauce, the one bite I got of these plump, juicy critters made my mouth very happy. The Coconut Peanut rice contrasts the shrimp with a light, delicate, but distinct coconut infusion with bits of peanuts scattered throughout. The Sweet Potato Plantain cake rounded out the dish. It is deep fried creating a not quite crispy shell around a creamy sweet center. And, as if that's not enough, a healthy salad of mixed greens, dressed with a Soy Honey Sauce creates a beautiful bed on which to display the shrimp. Delicious!

My plate held two 6 oz. Crab Cakes with the remoulade on the side. The crab cakes at Dragonfly are made a little differently than what I've had in other places. First you don't get lumps of crab mixed with filler. It seems as though the crab is blended with  the spices and accompaning flavors, then pan fried. They have a more creamy consistancy than most crab cakes I've had. Now, if someone said to me, "try this crab cake, it has a creamy consistancy," I probably would have turned them down, but trust me on this, they are so good! Crab is the main flavor you get with the other flavors complimenting and submiting to the crab in a most pleasant way. The romoulade is tangy nice, but little goes a long way and could easily overpower the crab cakes. Maybe that's why it's served on the side.  And as good as the crab cakes are, they are served resting on a bed of the best french fries that I have ever tasted. These fries are so good that I refuse to ruin them by putting ketchup on them! I literally told the waiter, "no," when he offered it. These fries aren't flavored or exotic in any way. They are normal fries from normal potatoes fried, in I don't know what kind of oil, to perfection. They are not greasy, yet crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, seasoned with just enough salt. Think original McDonalds fries, but oh so much better. (I would make the trip to Dragonfly just for the fries!) I also had a salad of mixed greens, but mine was dressed with a Garlic Vinaigrette, which was similar to a Caesar dressing, but with a little more punch. Great meal!

Spicy Jalapeno Martini
While we waited for our food to arrive, Rob noticed the signature drink menu and the Spicy Jalapeno Martini caught his eye. So, rather than have dessert, we ordered one of those. This is a tequila drink that is a little bit reminiscent of a margarita without the salt. It's sweet and spicy, but not too spicy, with a slice of pickled jalapeno in the bottom. Of course the closer you get to the bottom, the spicier it gets! We thought it was a great end to our dinner.

As I've mentioned, Dragonfly is a favorite, and although the food is consistantly good, this night's dinner was better than usual. We always recommend Dragonfly. It's worth the drive out to the Island. You can view their menu and even order online at Several items, such as their soups, wing sauces and salad dressings are packaged and available for sale.

Oh, and so sorry there are no pictures of our plates. We dove in before we thought about pictures. It was that good, but you can find plenty of pictures on the website gallery, and yes, the food really looks like that!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

El Ferol -- Santa Fe, NM

We felt it would have been a wasted trip not to visit the Canyon Road art galleries while in Santa Fe. Among the galleries sits a wonderful restaurant called El Ferol, at 808 Canyon Road (, 505-983-9912). While we strolled through the artwork, we kept our eyes out for this place, as we had it on good authority that they served great tapas, and since we knew we'd have a large dinner later, that was just what we wanted. We found it at the opposite end of Canyon Road from where we started, which was perfect.

We arrived there just after noon and tables were plentiful. There are not a lot of people out art gazing mid-day, in the middle of the week during the off season, forunately for us. Felicia , our server, brought us a generous basket of bread, and took our drink order as we settled into the tapas menu. All tapas are $7.75 each or 5 for $38. We knew we couldn't hold five so we decided on three to nosh on. We ordered Ceviche De Atun, Puerco Asado, and Roasted Red Bell Pepper with feta cheese.

As we waited on our choices we nibbled on the bread. Each table is set with small plates, a bottle of olive oil and a pepper grinder. We poured olive oil onto plates, ground some fresh pepper into it and thoroughly enjoyed this firm and chewy country style bread.

First to arrive was the Ceviche De Atun which is described as "mango citrus cured seafood." There was a lot of flavor in this little bowl of scallops, shrimp and fish marinating in mango, lime and jalapenos, garnished with cilantro and avocado. So beautiful and fresh, we dug right in and it was half gone before we thought to take a picture. My apologies.

Then the Puerco Asado, pork tenderloin with figs, port and Idiazabal cheese, and the Roasted Red Peppers with feta arrived. The Asada was so rich and savory and communed well with the sweetness of the figs. The cheese was its crowning glory, hard and slightly sharp. The red peppers, I thought, also worked well as a side to the pork. Rob was not so fond of the peppers and feta, but he is not fond of anything that has any real tang to it. That worked in my favor.

We enjoyed our time at El Ferol and will visit again if we find ourselves in Santa Fe. They serve tapas, lunch, and dinner. You may dine inside or out, and they have live entertainment in the evenings (Wednesday thru Sunday). It's a little pricey, as are all of the restaurants in the area, but in the art district the food is expected to rise above the normal restaurant fare and what we had at El Farol certainly does.

Tune-up Cafe -- Santa Fe, NM

Tune-Up Cafe
Tune-up Cafe, ( at 1115 Hickox St. (505-982-7060) restored our faith in the Food Network program, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. That is, once we found it! The building was not marked by address or name. We drove by it twice and seeing that it was the only restaurant on the block, decided it must be the place. Then we had to find a place to park. Drive-by number three.

Once parked, we walked the short distance to the restaurant and found it packed. It's a tiny place with as many tables squeezed in as possible, one long narrow table in the entry and a wood counter along the front windows. There were no tables available, so after ordering at the register, we sat at the counter along the windows where childrens books sat in the pockets that are formed in the places where the windows dipped down behind the counter. So, I was entertained while waiting for my food!

Basic Breakfast
Oh yeah, the food! You order and pay for your food at the register and peruse the menus while waiting in line. Rob, wanted a basic breakfast so he ordered the Basic Breakfast, which includes 2 eggs, homefries, toast or tortilla ($6.50) he added a side of bacon ($2) and green salsa on the side. I couldn't make up my mind, so I asked the girl behind the counter for a suggestion. First she suggested the Chile Relleno, but my stomach wasn't ready for that so early in the morning. Then she said that I should go with the Huevos El Salvadorenos ($8.25). Scrambled eggs with scallions and tomatoes, with refried beans, pan-fried bananas, crema and Alicia's corn tortilla. So, I did.

Huevos El Salvadorenos
We waited about ten minutes for our food, which we didn't mind because the place was fairly busy and I had the books to read. When our food did arrive it was freshly made -- no sitting around waiting for someone to get it to the table. It was hot and it was good! Rob's eggs were cooked the way he likes them and the potatoes were nicely seasoned. The salsa was mild, and we were thankful that they provided enough for both of us. My eggs were yummy! The scallion and tomatoes were mixed in at the last couple of moments before the eggs were set, so they still had a fresh taste to them. Now, I've never had pan-fried bananas and I don't know if I would ever have thought to pair them with scrambled eggs and refried beans, but this combination was amazing, especially when you add in the crema! The bananas were carmelized on the edges and added a sweetness to the meal that rounded it out nicely.

We really enjoyed Tune-Up Cafe and would definitely recommend it. There are more tables on a small patio area where we would have sat, had the temperature been a little higher. I just wish we had had more time to go back to try out their lunch menu. After watching the clip from Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives on their website, I'm looking forward to the next time we are in Santa Fe.

Zia Diner -- Santa Fe, NM

Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives has been in Santa Fe, NM so many times that we felt we had to try a couple of the establishments that they visited. Our first was Zia Diner ( at 326 S. Guadalupe Street (505-988-7008). It looked a bit more upscale than you would expect. I would not describe it as a diner, drive-in or a dive.  It was a beautiful day and we opted to sit out on the patio.
Buffalo Burger

Fallan, our waitress, was prompt and helpful. Since it was lunch time, we decided to go for burgers. I ordered the Buffalo Burger ($12.95) and Rob ordered the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($10.75). Both are served on a Brioche bun with carmelized onions, chipotle mayo and sweet potato fries. Fallan asked me how I wanted the burger cooked. I don't know anything about how buffalo is best cooked, so I asked her to advise me. She asked how I liked my steaks and guided me to go a little more rare on the buffalo. We settled on Medium rare -- pink middle.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
The plates arrived and the food smelled wonderful. The sandwiches are served open faced with lettuce and tomato so you can build your own as you like it. I kept adding more chipotle mayo to mine, I just could not get enough of it. It was flavorful without having too much bite. Rob and I built our burgers and cut them in half, trading a half with each other. The buffalo was good, but overcooked. It was not pink in the middle, which left it a little dry. As far as flavor is concerned it didn't taste much different than a pretty decent hamburger. Rob did not agree with me on this point. He liked it. In my opinion, the chicken was better. It was cooked nicely, remaining moist. The real show stealer was the sweet potato fries. They were slim cut, but not so small that you lose the flavor. Fried perfectly, so that they were crunchy and non-greasy. They were beautiful.

We liked Zia, though I left wondering why it deserved to be on a national food show. Maybe it was an off day, maybe I didn't choose the best dish. Would I eat there again? I probably would, it was nice, the food was good, the prices affordable, but I doubt I'd do the Buffalo Burger again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cafe Pasqual's -- Santa Fe, NM

Cafe Pasquals
This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting when we hit Santa Fe. We ate at Pasquals (, located a couple of blocks off of the Plaza, the last time we were in Santa Fe, about twelve years ago. It's a small place with about ten tables, that seat two to four, and one large community table in the middle of the restaurant that seats, I believe, eight. They serve only organic foods in this festive place, that has just celebrated its 33 year in business. During the peak tourist season you could wait an hour or two for a seat, which should give you some idea of the quality of their food.

We have only had breakfast at Pasquals, and had it twice this trip. Mayte waited on us the first visit. She was very friendly and helpful. This first visit was more relaxed and we had no wait time since it was in the middle of the week. Rob ordered the Breakfast Quesadilla which is scrambled eggs, guacamole, and Monterrey Jack cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled. It is served with a Red Chile Salsa ($9). He added the Applewood -- Smoked Bacon ($4). I ordered the Huevos Rancheros ($13). This is what I'd had before and loved. It was served in a shallow bowl this time, rather than a plate. I thought the plate was a better presentation, but it's the flavor that matters. It features two eggs over easy served over black beans resting on a blue corn tortilla and melted Jack with choice of sauces. I, of course, went with "Christmas." How else are you going to know which sauce is the best?
Huevos Rancheros

My dish, although not as pretty as the last time I'd had it, was just as good as I remembered. The various textures involved, corn tortilla, cheese, beans, egg, and flavors come together in a very harmonious way. The sauces are like icing on the cake. Neither too hot, but both equally good! Rob's quesadilla, though, was even better. He had had enough of spicy chili dishes, by this time, and wanted something simple but not bland. This was the perfect balance for his desire. I would have never thought that guacamole and eggs would be so wonderful together, but it was like the perfect little breakfast. The salsa is served on the side, so you can control how much you want, if any. The whole wheat tortilla is light and crispy and the cheese nice and stringy.

Breakfast Quesadilla
The quesadilla was so good that, on our second visit, I ordered it. Rob ordered the Two Large Eggs Any Style ($8). It comes with home fries, english muffin or whole wheat flax toast. He went with the toast and a side of the bacon and a little strawberry jelly. His eggs were cooked properly and he really liked that the home fries were made with red skinned potatoes. I also need to mention that the coffee at Pasquals is really great.

This second trip was on Friday, so there were  more people roaming the Plaza area. We had to wait about ten minutes for a table, although we had the option of being seated right away at the community table. This being our last day in Santa Fe, we opted to wait. As we were waiting two more parties came in behind us. It was fairly early, so I'm sure it was a busy day at Pasquals.

You've probably guessed that Pasquals is a place we would recommend and you'd be right. Just know that there is always the possibility that you may have a wait, and in peak season, that wait could be a while.

Really Great Coffee

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Las Cosas Cooking School - Santa Fe, NM

Chef Johnny Vee and Students
This was the clincher for taking our 20th Anniversary vacation in New Mexico. Rob came across a Groupon for a Culinary Vacation package at a very affordable price that included a Flavors of New Mexico Cooking Class and Gourmet Meal, lodging and a walking food tour of Santa Fe (which you'll read about soon). We found the place as soon as we arrived in Santa Fe, so that we would know just where to go at class time. I can't say I was disappointed, but maybe a little surprised that the cooking school is in the back corner of the cookware and gadget shop, Las Cosas, located in the DeVargas Mall. I was a little afraid that it would not be as great as my imagination had dreamed. I need not have worried!

We arrived for class not exactly knowing what to expect. Being the first ones there, we tried to figure which seats around the kitchen counter would be the best and chose the corner. As it turned out, seating wasn't important because after a short lecture by Chef Johnny Vee on New Mexico chilies and cuisine, and an overview of what we'd be cooking, all of the chairs were pushed back against the wall and the cooking commenced.

Chile con Queso and  Green Chili Enchiladas filling in the works
Chef Johnny Vee was our host. He, at one time, hosted a cooking show, and now gives classes on a variety of cuisines at the Las Cosas Cooking School. This class menu: Homemade Corn Tortillas, Chile Con Queso, Great Guacamole, Salsa Roja (red salsa), Tomatillo Salsa, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Grilled Eggplant Adovado, Sopaipillas, and for dessert Chocolate Peanut Tacos. There were eleven of us taking the class, so we were split up into groups of two to three for each recipe. Each recipe had all of its ingredients premeasured on a tray. Each group picked up its tray and went to work on their respective recipes. Rob and I were teamed up with another woman, Diana, and we worked on Sopaipillas and the Chocolate Peanut Tacos.
Frying Sopaipillas

During the process of cooking, Chef Johnny Vee would periodically get everyone's attention to show us the important points of each group's recipe. He is a very good at what he does. He was able to keep up with what each group was doing and still make sure that everyone understood how to make each dish, even though we were working on different dishes. As we worked, we found that, in our group, we had to let the sopaipilla dough rest and ice cream for the tacos set up, so we had a little down time, which we spent helping other groups. I'm thinking we were in the best group because the other groups didn't have that kind of opportunity.

As the salsas, guacamole and queso were finished, we helped ourselves to a bowl of tortilla chips and dug in. So delicious! The queso was so much better than the old standby Velveeta/Rotel mixture that we're so accustomed to. The Chile Con Queso recipe required 16 ingredients, one of which was tequila. Only two tablespoons, but we learned that it helps keep the emulsion of ingredients from separating from the fats. The salsas were mild and flavorful with instructions as to what chilies to use to bump up the heat.
Grilled Eggplant Adovado

According to Chef Johnny, in traditional New Mexico cooking, enchiladas are stacked rather than rolled. Maybe that's why when we've had enchiladas here that were rolled, they were specified as such on the menu. We watched as Chef assemble the first enchilada then turned the process over to the enchilada group. The Grilled Adovado group's dish came out first and we got to sample that with some of the homemade tortillas. Wow! And I'm not fond of eggplant! I think, though, when I try this recipe at home I'll do it with pork. Chef said we'd just have to cook it longer.

By the time everyone had tried the adovado the enchiladas were ready. Oh my goodness! The chicken had been cooked before the class in chicken stock. Our teammate, Diana, shredded the bird during some of our down time and the shredded chicken was then reheated in the Green Chili Sauce. All of this is layered between the Homemade Corn Tortillas and cheese. Unbelievably good!
The Spread sans the Enchiladas and Dessert
Then it was time for dessert. Our team had filled store bought taco shells with vanilla ice cream,dragged the edges of the shells through melted chocolate, then dredged them in chopped roasted peanuts. Yeah, when those babies came out of the freezer everyone who said, "I don't think I can eat a whole one," somehow managed. Chef Johnny showed us how to decorate the plate with chocolate syrup and present the taco with flair.

This class was so much fun and I would do another, even at full price, which generally runs about $80 per person. A bargain for learning new skills, not to mention the confidence you gain from actually making the meal yourself with a master chef at your side. As I mentioned earlier, we did this class on a Groupon, but classes are ongoing and can be booked through Epitourean, Edible Destinations! (, For more information on Chef Johnny Vee, his cookbook (which we now own) and the cooking classes at Las Cosas Cooking School visit

Atrisco Cafe & Bar - Santa Fe, NM

After arriving in Santa Fe we thought we'd see where our cooking class was located and stumbled onto the Atrisco Cafe & Bar. It's located in the DeVargas Mall on Peralta St., just inside the entrance. It's a small but lively place serving up New Mexican dishes. The staff seems to take care of each other's tables, so we weren't sure who our actual server was.

We both ordered the Lite Plate which is described as including one rolled chicken enchilada, rice, beans, posole and a choice of sauce. Well, of course, we both ordered "Christmas" since every place has their own sauce recipes. The plates arrived and I was surprised to see hominy on the plate. Evidently, hominy is considered posole, at least in this establishment. I thought posole was more of a soup/stew that often contains hominy, so I looked it up in the dictionary and found I was right. I love when that happens!

Lite Plate
Anyway, the flavors were all there, and it seems that sopaipillas (that's how it's spelled here) are to New Mexico cuisine like flour tortillas are to Tex-Mex -- served with every dish. Both sauces were pretty high on the heat scale and we were not warned about it. Even Rob commented that the heat was more than expected. He loved it, but recognized that most people might not. As a matter of fact, I asked about the heat factor when ordering and was told that the green sauce was hotter. Fortunately, we like heat, but this was almost too much. I don't normally suffer with stomach problems after eating spicy foods, but I carried this one with me for several hours.

We liked Atrisco and went back a couple days later for a glass of wine. The atmosphere is comfortable and colorful, the prices moderate, and the staff are friendly. The food was really good, but if you have a low tolerance for heat order carfully!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cafe Abiquiu at Abiquiu Inn, Abiquiu, NM

This, and the next few reviews, will be a little shorter as Rob and I continue our New Mexico vacation, because there have just been so many places to try and I'm getting behind. But right now let's concentrate on Cafe Abiquiu. Abiquiu, NM is located about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe and not very far from Medanales where we were staying when we tried this restaurant. It's right on US highway 84 and the Inn looks beautiful. The restaurant itself is nice, but rather non-descript. I did enjoy that it displays the work of local artists, and many who were very good, but we're here to talk food.

As we entered Cafe Abiquiu, we almost tripped over a table. What should have been a foyer area, in my opinion, held a table for six. No problem, though, we were ushered into another dining room and given a choice of tables since we were early. I was taken aback by our waitress who, I thought, looked a little disheveled in her oversized Cafe Abiquiu t-shirt. I expected a little more formal uniform for the waitstaff, but it's the food that counts. She took our drink orders and we looked the menu over while she tended to that.
Tamale Cake Napoleon

When she retuned, she suggested that we try the Tamale Cake Napoleon ($8). We don't normally do appetizers, but this one sounded intriguing. So, we ordered it. For our entree, Rob went with the Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon ($18) and I went with the Blue Corn Fried Rainbow Trout ($17).

Black Bean Soup
The Tamale Cake Napoleon is sweet corn cakes stacked with avacado, pico de gallo and roasted red pepper sauce. It was amazing! The pan-fried corn cakes were just a little sweet, almost a cross between polenta and cornbread with a few whole kernels of corn inside, layered with the smooth mashed avacado --YUM! We tried to savor it, but it was gone before we knew it. We, also, both opted for the soup over a salad. It was a wonderful Black Bean Soup with just a little chipotle. Very nice.
Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon

Rob's salmon was described as "pan seared New Mexico pistachio crusted North Atlantic salmon filet." It was tasty, but I expected the chipotle honey glaze to have more of a kick. What impressed me were the potaoes; sliced thin with just a hint of rosemary. His plate also included roasted asparagus which was in great need of seasoning.

Blue Corn Fried Rainbow Trout
My trout had what seems to be the most important thing, according to the celebrity chefs, a crispy skin. If you are a fan of the Food Network show Chopped, you know that crispy skin on fish is a must and is not always an easy thing to accomplish, so I must give the chef points for that, and the blue corn crust was interesting, but I can't say that it had a lot of flavor. My plate also included mashed potatoes with scallions which I liked very much and the roasted asparagus which was in great need of seasoning.

All in all, the meal was good, but not as good as it could have been. The appetizer was absolutely the best part of the meal and may have set the bar a little high for the entree. Would I recommend Cafe Abiquiu? Yes, but with reservations. No pun intended.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

El Farolito - El Rito, NM

Off of US Highway 84 about 12 miles down NM554 is a charming little place – emphasis on little – called El Farolito.  It’s on the right, and don’t blink as you drive through El Rito because you’ll miss it. Park where you can, and enter this little hole in the wall place, with room enough for only six tables.  It boasts of being the four time Chili Champion of the Santa Fe Chili Championship and displays the ribbons to prove it.
Andrea, our waitress and daughter-in-law to the owners, greeted us as we entered, delivered menus and had our drink order before we were seated. The menu was much more extensive than one would imagine. Rob ordered #4 Combination Plate with a beef enchilada, taco, rice and beans, and two sopapillas. I ordered the Chili Relleno which also comes with rice and beans and two sopapillas. Andrea informed me that it is the best Chili Relleno anywhere.  We mentioned to Andrea that we were from South Texas and were familiar with the cuisine. Having once had some amazing Chile Relleno in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I doubted her, but reserved judgement . As we each ordered, we got the classic question: “Red, green or Christmas?”  Now, for those who don’t know,” Red” and “Green” are your sauce choices with “Christmas” being some of each. We both went with “Christmas.”
Our plates arrived shortly and we were told that they were very hot. We did not need to be told, as the refried beans were still bubbling when Andrea set my plate in front of me.  After blowing excessively on the food gracing our forks, and trying to keep the molten cheese from sliding off, we had our first bites. All doubts evaporated with the steam from our plates. Rob exclaimed that the bite he’d just taken was of the “best enchilada he’d ever eaten.” I thought he might be exaggerating a bit so I reached out my fork and tried a bite. No exaggeration. The beef was so flavorful, but not greasy, cheddar cheese dripping off of the fork and the sauces – wow!.  My Chili Relleno was stuffed with just enough white cheese and topped with cheddar. So good! It truly was the best I’d had, hands down. But let’s not forget the rest of the meal. The rice had just enough tomato with a hint of smokiness and the beans were creamy and covered in cheese. The star of the meal, though, may have been the sopapillas. So soft and pillowy with just a little crunch as you bite into them. Of course, we filled them with honey – really great honey – and ate them along with our meal sopping up the sauce from our plates. Oh, yes, the sauces! The green, made from, well, green chilies, is thin with chunks of pork. It makes you wait a tick before the heat fills your mouth. It’s not a lot of heat, just enough to make you notice. The red is thicker, vegetarian and hits you in the back of the throat to get your attention. Delicious!
As we were about halfway through our meals, a couple of gentlemen were leaving and ask where in South Texas we were from. As we chatted, they bragged on all of the food served at El Farolito. According to them the best burgers were also found there, and the tamales were amazing. As one who makes tamales, I had to know just how amazing, so I asked Andrea to bring me one “green.” I was almost through my meal when it arrived covered in cheese and green sauce. I slipped the edge of my fork through the masa and found that the filling was not as I expected. It was not ground up with various fillers, but filled with shredded pork, seasoned to perfection. The masa, only a thin encasement, melted in my mouth. I think I may be moving soon!
If ever you find yourself in New Mexico, in or northwest of Santa Fe (about an hour drive), make it a point to find El Farolito. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside is some of the best cuisine we’ve ever had, and this is just the first meal we’ve had on our New Mexico vacation. I may be ruined for any other Southwest or Mexican food restaurant.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Congratulations to Amber and Rebekah, winners in the P.F. Chang's Give-away!

Amber and Rebekah will each receive:  $15 Gift Card, Free Appetizer Card, and Free Child's meal Card. Life is Good!

Black Sheep Bistro -- Corpus Christi, TX

The Black Sheep Bistro at 15201 S. Padre Island Dr. ( is a small, eclectic little place across the bridge on the Island (North Padre for those of you not in South Texas). It's very casual with an eclectic mix of music -- think Willie Nelson, CCR, Crosby, Stills & Nash, played a little louder than most places -- and an eclectic menu. One would expect a place on the Island to serve predominately seafood, but not here. At Black Sheep you can order a steak, pasta, burger, or seafood. Just because you're on the Island doesn't mean you gotta eat fish.

The manager met us at the door as we walked in and seated us at a table for two. This was our third trip to Black Sheep. We went with the intent to blog so we were paying close attention. Of course, this was the one time we'd be served by the daughter of a friend, and Rebecca's amazing, so there's nothing bad we can say about her. Rebecca took our drink orders while we looked over the menu and specials written on a chalkboard that is playfully decorated to draw your eye to items that you won't find on the menu. Rob ordered one of the specials and I ordered from the menu. Rebecca turned in our order and while we waited for our food, we caught up with all that's been going on in her life and her folks since we'd seen them last.

Rob had the Crab Stuffed Flounder. The flounder was beautifully wrapped around the crab filling and sat atop parmesan mashed potatoes with white truffle oil and asparagus. The potatoes were delicious, the truffle oil a faint echo in your mouth. The asparagus was cooked past the al dente stage (we prefer it a bit more crunchy). The crab filling was rich and creamy, but the flounder was just slightly overcooked and a little bit dry. All of the flavors played nicely together and we did a great job of cleaning the plate.

I had the Pescado a la Ticla. Three mahi tacos on corn tortillas with jicama slaw and a chili lime vinaigrette along with a mango salsa and Spanish rice. Rebecca warned me that it was spicy. It was. Very spicy! This dish is not for those with whimpy taste buds.  Fortunately, I like spicy, and I found if you added the mango salsa to the tacos a nice balance was achieved. The heat was fairly intense, but it didn't overpower the flavors. The fish was nicely grilled and meaty, the tortillas perfectly cooked (not fried). The salsa was sweet, but not too. I enjoyed every bite. The only criticism would be for the Spanish rice. I felt it could have more flavor, but it wasn't bad.

As I've stated, this was our third visit and the food has consistently pleased us. We would absolutely recommend Black Sheep Bistro, and we are excited to learn that Black Sheep is adding on to the bistro. Next door, the Barrel is being built. It, hopefully, opens next month. It will basically be a wine bar serving tapas. We will definitely be checking that out!

Since it was slow (we tend to eat earlier than most people), I asked Rebecca if she'd ask the chef if he would mind sharing a simple recipe or kitchen tip. He was willing to offer a tip. I will try to do this for future reviews, also.

Kitchen Tip from the Chef: When cutting onions use a very sharp knife. The sharper the knife, the fewer tears you'll shed because it will cause less damage to the cells as you cut.

Monday, March 26, 2012

P. F. Chang's Give-Away!!!

Hey Kids, I scored some Gift Cards and other goodies from P.F. Chang's and I'm going to share them with two of my followers. When you become a follower of Everyday Couple Eating Out you will automatically be entered to win!

What will you win?

Each winner will receive: $15 P.F. Chang's Gift Card, A Free Kid's Meal Card, and A Free Appetizer Card! Not a bad deal.

Become a follower now!

Name will be drawn from followers and winners will be notified on March 31, 2012.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Luciano's Restaurante - Corpus Christi, TX

The thing I love about Luciano's (1821 S Alameda St. at Six Points) is that the tables are covered with starched white tablecloths (although now the tablecloths sit under glass) and the waitstaff look so professional in their white shirts and black pants. So, I was a little surprised when we walked in last night and the staff were dressed more casually in green tshirts and khakis. Then I realized that it was St. Patrick's Day. It made perfect sense, except that we were in an Italian restaurant. Which brought to mind the night, several months ago, when Rob and I visited Molly's Irish Pub where Tejano music was playing. We know how to celebrate diversity in South Texas!

Okay, back to Luciano's. We were seated at the same table that we've sat at on our last two visits, which was great, because I love that table. It's right in the corner where the two glass walls meet. It's almost like sitting on a patio, but without the wind and insects. Our server, John, greeted us and took our wine orders while we looked over the menu. Rob picked the Shrimp Diavolo and I chose a classic, the Chicken Parmigiana. John arrived with our drinks and took our orders.
Bread Sticks

As we waited for our meals, John brought us breadsticks. I swear I only took a couple of bites, but my breadstick just disappeared. Before I knew it, all of it's soft, salty, cheesy goodness was gone. I dared not touch another for fear I'd not have an appetite left for my meal. Rob was also struggling to keep from eating another. Fortunately, we were not tortured long and we were glad we saved room for dinner.

Chicken Parmigiana
My Chicken Parigiana was beautiful in every way. The chicken was moist, tender and abundant, wrapped in a light crust of breadcrumbs and parmesan. It lay atop a mound of spaghetti that was drenched in a sweet tomato sauce. Mozzarella Cheese topped the dish -- gently melted until it was just beginning to brown. So good! To look at the dish you would expect heaviness. Not the case. There was flavor, but it was delicate. The dish was all about enhancing the chicken, not covering it. Subtle hints of basil in the tomato sauce served to create great plate of comfort food.

Shrimp Diavolo
Rob stuck with his favorite Shrimp Diavolo. This dish is make-your-nose-run spicy. Not too much heat, but definitely there. The sauce also contained plenty of vegetables and was served over nine (nine? Really? Yes, nine!) plump shrimp and linguini. I don't know, maybe the shrimp were a little smaller than last time, but at our previous visit, he got six. You would think that a sauce with so much flavor and spice would overpower the flavor of the shrimp, but no. The shrimp were cooked beautifully and held their own in this robust dish. Wonderful harmony of flavor.

Luciano's is a real treasure. It may not always be perfect, as in our last review (June 2011), but there is always redemption. In our many visits to Luciano's we've learned that they strive to provide excellent food and if something isn't right they will work hard to make sure you're satisfied. I like that in a restaurant and that's why we continue to eat at Luciano's.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Outback Steakhouse -- Corpus Christi, TX

Rob wanted a steak and I wasn't in the mood for any specific cusine, so I was game. He pulled up Urban Spoon on his phone and started flipping. It brought up Outback Steakhouse, 4221 S. Padre Island Dr. ( Now, I have to say that at one time we were really fans of Outback. Then about eight months ago my mother passed away, and with several family members in town, we wanted to go out to dinner. My sister suggested Outback. It had been about a year since Rob and I had eaten there, so we thought it was a great idea. It was one of the worst experiences we've ever had in a restaurant. Food not cooked properly, slow, surly server; we basically vowed we would not return. Then last night Rob wanted a steak. We decided to give it one more chance.

Fortunately, it was not like our last visit. It was early in the evening, so we were seated right away. Anthony waited on us, and he was eager to please. He got our drink order while we perused the menu. Rob selected the 10 oz. Ribeye with a baked potato, and I settled on the Filet and Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie which featured a "petite" filet with grilled shrimp. Now, I noticed that the 6 oz. filet was one dollar more than my selection so I asked Anthony just how petite the steak was. He told me that it was 5 oz. I ordered. I asked for my steak to be cooked medium rare. Anthony said that the medium rare would be red throughout (which I would consider rare) and that medium would be pink with a red center. So, I ordered medium. Rob ordered his steak medium rare.

Considering the restaurant was nearly empty, the meal took a little longer than it should have to reach us. When it did arrive and we cut into our steaks, Rob's was a bit overcooked and mine a bit undercooked. Not terrible, but noticably off. We didn't complain about it. What bothered me more was that my "petite" filet didn't really look like a filet. It was about a half inch thick, but the flavor was good. The shrimp were small (I expected that due to the price) and the sauce that accompanied them was not to my liking. The shrimp lay among grape tomato halves with basil. This little salad was way too salty. I do not know if it was prepared that way, or if the salt that encrusted the potato skin of my baked potato fell into it. Either way it was barely edible. The baked potato was dressed with all the trimmings. Both of our baked potatoes were properly cooked.

As I stated, Rob's steak was overcooked, but again the flavor was there, and he said that it satisfied his desire for a steak. He didn't feel it was anything special, though -- not quite worth the price we paid.

When Anthony brought the check he noticed that I had hardly touched my wine. He asked if I liked it and I told him that I really didn't. I told him that I was only drinking it because we were paying for it. He insisted on removing it from the check, which earned him tipping points.

I know this has not been a very exciting post (I almost didn't post at all), but that was exactly our experience. Not really bad, but not really good either. Just not an exciting dinner. Anthony was great, but considering our last experience there, and what we were served last night, not even great service could inspire us to want to return to this location. It's too bad, too, because we used to enjoy eating at Outback Steakhouse.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fajitaville -- Corpus Christi, TX

Fajitaville at 221 South Hotel Place in Corpus Christi, TX ( is actually three spots in one. Located on Corpus Christi Beach (what I've grown up calling North Beach) this bright, multi-colored building houses the open air Bamboo Beach Bar on the first floor, The family oriented "Grill" on the second floor, and the more upscale Club Riviera on the third. We opted for the third floor experience. (The Grill and Riviera share the same menu.)

While researching, today, I found that the restaurant opened on October 29, 2011. I would think that after four months things would run a little more smoothly. We felt as if we had come into a very new operation. The hostess greeted us warmly and explained that she would have someone take us up to the third floor shortly. "Less than ten minutes," she said. True to her word, in actually less than five, there were not one, but two hostesses expecting to take us up, leaving the family of five who were there before us wondering if they would make it to the second floor.

After a bit of confusion, we arrived at our table with only one hostess in tow. She graciously seated us, and our server arrived shortly thereafter. She seemed a little green, but eager to please, although she was not very familiar with the drink menu. The wine list did not include my favorite wine, Sauvignon Blanc, so I asked if they had one. With a slight look of panic in her eyes she said, "If it's not on the menu, we don't have it." It surprised me a little that a place on the beach, serving seafood, would not have a more varied selection of white wines. I ordered the Pinot. Rob ordered the Malbec. I noticed after she served our water that she had to tear the bartender away from his meal to fill our drink orders. I like a server who makes sure the customer doesn't wait longer than necessary.

We had decided on our entrees by the time she arrived with our wine. Many items on the menu sounded intriguing, and I finally settled on the Seashell of Salmon Roulade which is described as, "Salmon fillet rolled in Rockefeller creamed spinach, finished with tarragon pesto cream." I was allowed two sides and ordered the "hand-hacked mashed potatoes" and house salad with a raspberry vinegarette dressing. Rob ordered the Stuffed Gulf Shrimp which are stuffed with blue crab, fried, and served with lobster butter and roasted red bell pepper sauce. He opted for the baked potato and house salad with a Caesar dressing, because they didn't have his favorite, honey mustard.

Our salads came and we knew we were in trouble. Although fresh, they were the classic bowls of lettuce (dressed up with Romaine rather than Iceberg) with one slice of tomato, one slice of cucumber, a little dusting of shredded carrots and croutons. We have learned that you can generally judge the cuisine of a restaurant by the quality of the salad they serve. This salad is generally indicative of less than top-notch food; unfortunately the stereotype held true.

Let's do Robs food first this time. When our server sat his plate down, he looked at it and said, "I thought the shrimp was stuffed." She server said they were. In defense of the restaurant, he was not expecting fried, but after checking the menu, he had just missed that. I thought that stuffed shrimp would be larger. These were about the size of medium sized shrimp. There was no lobster butter on his plate, but there was a red sauce. I tasted one of the shrimp with the red sauce. First, the sauce was nothing special -- no memorable flavor --  and second, the shrimp were indeed stuffed, with about a quarter of a teaspoon of what I supposed was crab. You could not taste it, but what you could taste was that the shrimp were of the frozen variety.

Now my dish. The potatoes had no seasoning. I take medication for high blood pressure and so I have become accustomed to eating foods with a minimum of salt. I had to add salt and pepper these, they were so bland. My first thought was that Robert Irvine would have a field day with the kitchen staff. (Reference to the Food Network Show, Restaurant Impossible, for those of you who are scratching your heads.) The salmon tasted as if it had landed on the griddle right behind an order of bacon. I have never had salmon that tasted like bacon before. The "Rockefeller creamed spinach" was sandwiched inside the salmon. Let us have a short cooking lesson: A Roulade is the french term for a thin slice of meat rolled around a filling and Rockefeller generally refers back to Oysters Rockefeller which was named so because it was so rich. Nothing on this plate was rolled, and not only was the Rockefeller creamed spinach not rich, it tasted as if it came out of a can, having no real flavor at all. And forget about a tarragon pesto cream. It was finished with a drizzle of the raspberry vinegarette. Yes, the very same dressing I had on my salad. We passed on dessert.

The building is festive, with a pleasant decor and wonderful view. The seating and wait staff, although trying to please, were very unpolished. The food, if ours was any indication, was not worth what we paid, much less the drive over the bridge. We could only figure that it being a tourist oriented restaurant, they expect to get away with less than excellent food. In my book, that is the wrong attitude to take. Rob left with an upset stomach, and this couple will not be eating at Fajitaville again.

We're Baaaaack!!!

Hey, food fans! After some downtime due to me needing to care for my mother, her death, and dealing with handling the estate, I got out of the habit of blogging. Then last night my Knight in Shining Armor and I ate at Fajitaville and I felt the need to get back to writing about our experiences. You'll find our experience there in the next blog. I just wanted to take a moment here to say "hi" and get you caught up with some of the places we've revisited over the past several months. Some have changed our mind and others remain the same. So here you go:

Dragonfly continues to be a favorite with us. They have changed the menu some and the new additions are amazing.

Hester's is as great as always. The food is consistantly good and the staff always friendly and ready to please.

La Fogata Grill in Corpus Christi has closed it's doors. This is sad, because I think the cusine was one of the best we've experienced in this city.

Shockley Market has also closed. Another favorite down. We may have to move to San Antonio or Austin.

La Playa Mexican Restaurant in Corpus Christi. Thank goodness they're still open! We continue to enjoy eating here. Very casual, of course, and reasonably priced, their little inconsistancies aren't a big deal. Most of the time the food is very good.

I wish I could say the same for Dos Comales. Twice out of the three times we've dined there we have been disappointed. Sad, because it could be so much more.

Luciano's was more enjoyable the last couple of times we visited. Good service and rich Italian fare.

Broadway Bistro in San Antonio is always great.

La Fogata Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio is still some of the best Mexican food around.

Silo Restaurant, also in San Antonio, labels their food "elevated cuisine." It truly is, and not because you're eating on the second floor. This is gourmet!

La Madeline is still our favorite breakfast spot.

And finally, back home in CC, we like to stop by the bar in P F Chang's for a glass of wine, and sometimes dinner. The bar staff are like a well oiled machine, yet never too busy to stop and share some friendly conversation. Bobby, Miranda, and Vanessa are the best!