Thursday, August 24, 2017

Osaka Sushi and Hibachi (Coon Rapids, MN)


Restaurant Review – Osaka Sushi and Hibachi (Coon Rapids, MN)


I was visiting friends in Minnesota and the group decided it would be fun to visit Osaka Sushi and Hibachi. I hadn’t been to a hibachi grill for many years and thought it would be great fun.

We made reservations the day before and arrived as a group of seven about 10 minutes before our reservation, but we still had to wait before we were seated.

Ordering

One of our party asked the server for hashi. The server server responded to see if she wanted her sake hot or cold. Upon further explanation, it became clear that the server didn’t know what hashi are. (It's the Japanese word for chop-sticks.) The server said she was Vietnamese and didn’t speak Japanese.  I admit, I don’t speak Japanese either, but I do know the word hashi and a server at a Japanese restaurant should know what hashi are.

Food Arrival

Shrimp Tempura - Osaka Sushi & Hibachi
I wasn’t happy with the arrival of appetizers. Although I was impressed when I saw the Shrimp Tempura, but it was another ten minutes before my vegetable tempura arrived. It was almost as though our individual appetizer orders had been given to several different cooks and they sent the food out when they were finished without anyone in control of the kitchen. Appetizers for the table should have arrived near in time to each other rather than staggered over many minutes.

Food

Teppanyaki chefs are typically famous for their antics. Making the food is an art and serving it is supposed to be fun for the customers. Our chef was really boring. Rather than clattering his utensils with fascinating motion and sound, he turned the rice with one spatula and clanked his other spatula on the side of the grill in what really became to be a cocophany of sound -- not pleasant to see nor hear. The fried rice had a tiny amount of vegetables added to it and only enough sauce to turn its color slightly. It definitely was not worth the upcharge. I guess the chef thought that squirting sake into people’s mouths from across the grill would be a sufficient entertainment – it was not.   

The entrée itself was quite good. I had the Filet Mignon and Shrimp and found both the meat and the shrimp delicious. However, none of the sides were particularly good. The onion soup was bland, the iceberg lettuce salad was overdressed with just a few shards of carrots, and the noodles were overcooked.

Members of our party were still eating their meals when the cleaning crew came to clear the table. It was obvious that we weren't done yet, but apparently because none of us desired dessert, we were done in their eyes. It wasn’t that someone came and asked if they could take the plate from someone who had clearly finished. They just came and began clearing without asking and began clanking plates into the grey bus pan. We had to tell the bus person to leave and return after we had finished eating. He had to be told twice and finally gave us a look disgust that we were being unreasonable and he was only doing his job and left. I found his actions rude. There were still a half a dozen griddle stations empty, so there wasn’t any reason we should have been hurried.

Ratings          

Ambiance: 4 (Expected Hibachi grill seating.)
Food: 4 (Meat and shrimp were excellent, vegetable tempura okay and fried rice boring.) 
Service: 2 (Server was barely adequate; teppanyaki chef was only adequate, and bus person was rude.)
Price: 2 (Entrée was over $30, including the fried rice upcharge; drinks, appetizer, and a modest tip brought the bill to $50.)
Value: 3 (Expensive for what you get.)

Conclusion

I found the server unprepared to serve in a Japanese restaurant, the appetizers delivery uncoordinated, the Teppanyaki chef uninspiring and the bus staff rude. The friendliness I’ve experienced at other Hibachi grills wasn’t there. I won’t go back.

Restaurant

Osaka Sushi and Hibachi
12580 Riverdale Blvd
Coon Rapids, MN 55448

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Portland Pie Company - Scarborough, ME

Looks can be deceiving. 

Restaurant Review – Portland Pie Company, Scarborough, ME

“It’s all about the dough” is a great moniker for the Portland Pie Company. The dough is great but the pizza, not so much.

We stopped at the Portland Pie Co a couple years ago and I guess we had forgotten why we hadn’t returned immediately. I remember now….

We arrived a bit after noon on a Sunday and the place was quite busy.  However, a hostess seated us right away; we ordered our “water with lemon,” a beer, and a cider and reviewed the menu.

The Fryeburg Fair
Portland Pie Company - Scarborough, ME
When the drinks arrived, we ordered our food. I’m still looking for great hamburgers and ordered what they call the Fryeburg Fair - Two beef patties topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle, finished with a mix of ketchup & mustard it is served in their pie pocket.  I substituted a salad for potato chips for the side. I was a little concerned when the waitress didn’t ask me how I would like it cooked.

My wife decided upon the Mount Katahdin – A pizza with a pesto sauce, fresh spinach, artichoke hearts and sliced tomatoes woven in a three cheese blend.  She ordered the 14” thin crust so she could have some to take home.

Then we waited.  And we waited.  The waitress stopped by to tell us our order was “coming right up.” We waited some more.  After more than 45 minutes the food finally arrived. The pizza looked amazing.  The burger was one of the most pathetic looking ‘burgers I’ve ever seen. Clearly, they intend to present the burger with a side of fries or something, but when served with a side salad you just get an empty plate with a pickle spear and their burger stacked upon itself in a mistaken attempt to make it seem more like “tall food.” The side salad was served with the burger (not before like most places do) and was a beautiful mix of lettuces with plenty of tomatoes, onions and cucumber slices.  The salad was and excellent choice and well worth the $1.00 upcharge. The burger tasted better than I was expecting. The beef, although well done, was still juicy and tasty. The pita bread looking pizza dough pocket was quite good, better than most buns at other places.

Soggy Mount Katahdin
Portland Pie Co.
As I said before, the pizza looked amazing. However, it was one of the worst tasting pizzas ever. It was soggy and had a greasy taste only expected on a meat pizza. Neither of us could taste the basil. When you took a slice off the platter, it left a snail trail.

The server didn’t offer to put the remaining pizza into a takeaway box for us. But otherwise, she was okay, albeit quite busy.

Rating - 3.0

Ambiance: 4 (Nice “pizza joint” atmosphere but too noisy for conversation at midday.)
Food: 3 (Pizza was soggy, the burger was good.) 
Service: 2 (Server was okay – But a long wait for food.)
Price: 3 (Lunch was under $13 each, not including drinks)
Value: 3 (There are many pizza focused restaurants in the area. Better pizza can be found elsewhere.)

Conclusion


Pizza looked much better than it tasted.
The bottom line is that the burger looked weird but tasted quite good and the pizza, that looked really good, was not very good at all. Looks can be deceiving. I am sure it will be years before we return.

Location

We went to the Scarborough location, 499 Expedition Drive, across the parking lot from Cabella’s.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Union Restaurant - Portland, Maine

Restaurant Review 

By Don Taylor


We arrived in downtown Portland very early for a show at the Merrill Auditorium.  We walked past the Union Restaurant and looked at the menus of several of the many restaurants along Exchange Street. We decided to come back to Union and give them a try.

Before we went in, it was our plan to sit at the bar, have drinks and hors d'oeuvres before the show.  Seating was a breeze as there was only one other person sitting in the bar, although there were a couple groups seated in the lounge area. 

Eric, our bartender was amazing.  His martini and Manhattan preparations were classic. Going against James Bond’s preference, his were “stirred, not shaken.” I think stirring is a much more civilized way to make a martini.  Also, as Eric stirred, he watched carefully and stopped when the melt was perfect, something that can’t be done when a drink is shaken.

We ordered truffle laced potato chips with a goat’s milk ranch dip and “Cheese and Charcuterie” which was the Chef’s seasonal selection of local cheeses and artisan meats along with local honey, fig jam, walnuts, and bread.

Cheese and Charcuterie
Union Restaurant, Portland, ME
Josh Berry, the executive chef of Union Restaurant, was honored by the Main Restaurant Association as their Chef of the Year for 2017. I only say that because when this Chef selected the meats and cheeses they are amazing. The presentation was beautiful and the tastes were both complex and varied. I don’t believe I had ever had capers on the stem before – Delicious.  Even the pickled green beans were surprisingly tasty.  The ham was among the most flavorful I’ve had and the sausage slices were exquisite. I’ve not had an appetizer better anywhere. 

Truffle Laced Potato Chips
Union Restaurant
Likewise, the truffle laced potato chips were sublime simplicity. With the dip, these magnificent potato chips were elevated far above normal bar fare.

Ratings - 4.2

Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
Food: 5 (Every item was perfect.)
Service: 5 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
Price: 3 (A bacon cheeseburger runs $15 for lunch)
Value: 4 (I don’t know of any places, without tablecloths, that are nicer.)

Conclusion

The Union Restaurant is on my short list of truly excellent restaurants in downtown Portland. We will return.

Location

Union Restaurant, 390 Congress St, Portland, ME 04103


Monday, June 5, 2017

Riverdance – Merrill Auditorium – Portland, ME


Review: Riverdance – Merrill Auditorium – Portland, ME – 1 June 2017

I’m sure it has been a grueling schedule for the cast of Riverdance on their 20th Anniversary World Tour. We were able to watch the show at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine on June 1st.  It is one of the last 7 locations for the cast this year before they return to Ireland for the summer and tour Europe during the fall.

Originally known as the Portland City Hall Auditorium, the Merrill Auditorium is a lovely old theater built in 1911 in the eastern section of Portland City Hall. It underwent a major renovation in 1997[i]. It seats 1,907 people.

We arrived early and went to Union Restaurant up the street. (More about that later.) The doors into the auditorium opened about 30 minutes before showtime. We had great seats, Row G in Section 1 of the Orchestra; the seats were comfortable and had plenty of leg room. I was impressed with the venue. My new phone has a panoramic view option which I gave a try.

Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine - Panoramic view.

Sadly, the lead male dancer was no Michael Flatley. He wasn’t as crisp nor as engaging as the original. Likewise, none of the female leads had that amazing gazelle-like nature that Jean Butler of the original cast had.

I know it was long into their road trip, but it was clear some of the troupe were tired, bored, or both. A couple cast members danced nicely when in the front but when they rotated to the rear of a group they fell out of character, just standing around, flat-footed, looking about waiting for their return to the front. I’ve seen high school casts remain in character much better. The lack of professionalism in some of the cast was sad to see.

Clearly, with the smaller cast and many of the troupe needing to double-up on roles. For example, I was less than inspired when I first saw J. L. Williams singing. He was an okay baritone but not great. However, he really shined as a tapper. In the original, the two roles would have been handled by two different individuals.

Likewise, Flamenco dancer, Marta Ortiz, seemed to get tired and more and more flat-footed as her particularly long flamenco routine went on. She had a great smile and kept it during what had to have been an exhausting routine, but I don’t recall ever seeing a professional dancer look so tired. 

The one aspect of the show that may have been better than the original was Mark Alfred on the drums.  He was amazing; I believe his Bodhrán playing was the best I have ever heard. His drum and cymbal work was a positive contribution throughout the show. 

I will admit, although I’m not a Celtophile, I am close and generally love all things Celtic. I found the Riverdance 20th Anniversary Tour to be enjoyable and great fun. It was a good show, but certainly not of the quality that created the Riverdance phenomena of the 1990s. The show did remind me of my Celtic Irish roots and, most importantly, made me want to dance. 

RIVERDANCE 20th Anniversary Tour [Trailer]
(Not the cast nor the Portland, Maine venue but good to watch.)

ENDNOTES



[i] Wikipedia – Merrill Auditorium - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merrill_Auditorium

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Best Value I know of - Mulligan’s - Biddeford, Maine

Restaurant Review – Mulligan’s - Biddeford, Maine 

Martini at
Mulligan's
I have had three bad restaurant experiences in a row and decided I didn’t want to have that many negative reviews. So, I decided to mix it up just a bit, add one positive review then go back to another negative review. As a positive review, Mulligan’s Bar and Grill in Biddeford has become a “go to” place for my wife and me. We go out of our way to eat here every month or two.

On our recent visit we were a bit surprised that there wasn’t a hostess to seat us; usually there is. However, a waitress, Chrissy, came quickly and ushered us to a booth. 

We ordered our two glasses of “water with lemon” and two cocktails, a martini and a Manhattan. We know their menu, so we ordered food at the same time as our drinks. My wife ordered the teriyaki steak with rice pilaf (with sour cream) and coleslaw. I ordered a burger with fries and a bowl of chili. I asked for the chili to come with the dinner rather than before the rest of the food.

The drinks arrived and were perfect. The martini was extra dry, as requested, and there were three large olives on a skewer.

Teriyaki Steak with Rice Pilaf & Coleslaw
Mulligan's - Biddeford, Maine
The steaks are thin compared to many other places. But, what do you expect at $4.99? What did I say?  Yes, nothing on the menu is over $4.99. Well, almost nothing. Their burger is also $4.99, but adding bacon adds 50 cents to the price. So, I guess you could say a bacon cheeseburger is $5.49. 

My wife’s steak was cooked a perfect medium rare.  The extra teriyaki sauce on the side was extremely tasty.  The rice pilaf was excellent. Finally, my wife thinks Mulligan’s coleslaw is one of the best she has ever eaten – Savory without being vinegary.  I agree, their coleslaw is fantastic.

My burger came a juicy, flavorful, medium well. I had asked for both raw and sautéed onions and received them, although I would have preferred a few more raw onions, it was excellent. The fries are typical for bar food, nothing to be excited about, but make a great compliment to the chili. Their chili is quite good. It is tomato hot and not overpowering. I enjoyed it with the fries and the burger.

The restaurant was quite busy while we were there, but our server, Chrissy, was friendly and attentive.

Ratings


Chilli, burger & fries
Mulligan’s - Biddeford, Maine
Ambiance: 3 (It is an older Irish bar with tables and booths.)
Food: 4 (Everything was good.) 
Service: 4 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
Price: 5 (Lunch was under $7 each including extra for the chili and the coleslaw (not including drinks).
Value: 5 (By far, Mulligans is the best value of any restaurant I know.)

Conclusion

I often say that, “Good food, reasonably priced, with great service makes life enjoyable.” Mulligan’s is the kind of place that makes life enjoyable.  We will be back, again and again.

Location

Mulligan’s Irish Bar and Grill
23 Lincoln St.,
Biddeford, Maine