Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe

Photo of The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe by Don Taylor
The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe
Andover, Minnesota
E corner of Hanson & Crosstown Bullivards
I was visiting a friend in Ham Lake, Minnesota, and he suggested eating at “The Bean” a cafe in Andover. It is a strip mall restaurant in a fairly new complex. With a name like, "The Bean," I figured it focused on coffee, which it does, but, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they sold wine and beer. 


Photo of the Grilled Tuna Melt with kettle Chips by Don Taylor
Grilled Tuna Melt with kettle Chips
The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe

I don’t drink a lot of beer anymore and the explosion of craft beers has me at a disadvantage in that I don’t know a lot of the new craft beers. I spoke with our server, Amber, about the beers. She was extremely helpful, asking about my preferences and tastes. Finally, we agreed on Tree Shaker by O’Dell which is an Imperial Peach IPA. It wasn't nearly as peachy as I thought it might be which was good.  It a very good beer and Amber was very helpful.

My friend and I then ordered. I was undecided between two options. When my friend ordered one of them, I then chose the other. He selected the Grilled Tuna Melt -- Tuna salad, American cheese, and tomatoes served open face with a fork. He chose kettle chips as his side. I selected the “The Rodeo,” which is a pulled pork sandwich, pulled pork on a layer of Mac and Cheese. I added the pasta salad as my side. I know my wife wouldn’t approve, but she’s several states away....


Food arrived at in a reasonable time. My friend’s Tuna Melt looked awesome. Beautiful and plenty of food. My Rodeo also looked very good. I tasted my friend’s sandwich -- Excellent tasting. The tomato was a little overcooked to my taste but overall it was one of the best tuna melt sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. My sandwich was also very good. The Mac and Cheese was very good, cooked neither al dente nor overcooked. It had a good amount of pork that was seasoned nicely. It was good, but I wish I had ordered the Tuna Melt. My pasta salad was very good. I’m not sure what type of pasta was used, I asked Amber about it and she didn’t know. I was disappointed that she didn’t go and ask the cook what was used but she was very busy. The salad had lots of veggies in it and a lot of crunch. It was different than most pasta salads and I enjoyed it.


Photo of "The Rodeo" - a pulled pork with Mac & Cheese sandwich with side of pasta salad by Don Taylor
"The Rodeo" - Pulled pork with Mac & Cheese with pasta salad

The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe was formerly “The State of Bean Coffeehouse” and moved to its current location about three years ago. I would definitely return and I consider it a favorite in the Andover, Minnesota, area.


Rating

Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
Food: 4 (Every item was cooked perfectly.)
Service: 4 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
Price: 4 (Lunch items were $7.95 & $8.95)
Value: 4 (Definitely on my places to return to list.)

Highly recommended.

The Bean Coffee and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Restaurant Review – Pine Point Grille, Scarborough, ME

I am “not from around here” and have never lived in a place before where establishments close for the winter. I understand it intellectually, but just haven’t gotten into the mind-set to know that my favorite places to eat in the summer and early fall will be closed for the winter and won’t open until spring. Last summer and fall we went to the Pine Point Grille several times and truly loved the food, particularly their pork entree, so we were very excited to learn that they were opening on March 19th. We couldn’t get there the first couple of weekends they were open but were able to go a couple weeks later.

We arrived shortly after opening and they were already fairly busy. Maybe about half the tables were already taken.  In the summer they seat many people in their outside area, but March in Maine – everyone was inside and trying to be as far away from the door as possible. The Pine Point Grill is a nice upscale restaurant. It is probably one of the nicest places I know of that doesn’t have cloth tablecloths. That is okay, the tables are nice and in good repair.

Fish & Chips
Pine Point Grille
(Sorry, the photo is slightly out of focus)
We ordered a couple drinks (they have a full bar), water with lemon, and took our time looking at their new menu. We were a little disappointed that they didn’t have any of the pork dishes that had last fall, but they had several new and exciting offerings.

I almost ordered a burger. I’ve had it before and it was very good. With my waitresses’ reminder that I “can get a burger any time,” I decided on the Fish and Chips. A nice piece of haddock, batter dipped in a tempura batter. They make their own tartar sauce that has a dusting of yuzu powder. Yuzu is Chinese fruit with lots of citrus flavor. I suspected that the powder would concentrate the citrus taste to make a freshness not often found.

My wife decided on the Grilled Skirt Steak. It comes on a bed of Swiss chard topped with a blue cheese mousse. Along with it is a side of potato gratin.

The food took a little longer than I expected, but not too bad. They were really busy and by the time our order arrived there were people waiting for tables. Busy-Busy. However, while we waited we received a bit of their bread sticks. Very good and they kept us at bay while we waited for the main courses.

The presentation of the fish & chips was very nice – a nice big piece of fish on a bed of fries. The lemon tarter in a nice little triangular bowl along side the fries. The fish tasted was excellent. The tempura batter was very good and the fish was cooked perfectly. The fries were a bit greasier than I expected; they were good though. The tarter sauce with the Yuzu was awesome. Probably the best tarter sauce I’ve ever had. Really good.

Skirt Steak with Potato Gratin & Blue Cheese Mousse
Pine Point Grille
My wife’s skirt steak also looked awesome. On the rare side of medium rare, just as she asked for. The skirt steak was a very good cut. She had no bits of gristle or fat that couldn’t be eaten. In a little taste she gave me, I thought it was a little tough. I realize it was skirt steak and not filet mignon but I thought it could have been better. My wife didn't agree with me. The Swiss chard was a bit bland; a spark of lemon or zest would have touched it up and brightened the flavors. It did hold the meat up nicely making the food taller. The gratin was amazing.  Every slice of potato was perfect. The taste was subtle and the overall presentation was finely put together. It was much better than the ham-fisted efforts my wife has with the same dish at home.  

We didn’t have dessert this trip. However, from past visits we know they have little bite-sized mini desserts that are extremely good. Just a couple bites, but really good.

 Ratings

Pine Point Grill on Urbanspoon
Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
Food: 4 (Every item was cooked perfectly.) 
Service: 5 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
Price: 3 (Dinners were about $22.50 each, not including drinks)
Value: 4 (I don’t know of any places nicer or more civilized in the Scarborough – Pine Point area.)

Yes, we’ll be back whenever we are wanting an extremely good meal in the local area.

The Pine Point Grille is located at 240 Pine Point Road, in Scarborough, which is next to the Blue Point Congregational Church. Because their hours vary though the year be sure to check out their website or their Facebook page to confirm they are open when you want to go.






   


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dogfish Bar and Grille - Portland, ME

Restaurant Review – Dogfish Bar and Grille – 128 Free St., Portland, ME


We were recently at an event at the Cross Insurance Arena.  After the event, we thought we’d do a late lunch at a restaurant nearby.  The weather was miserable, snow blowing sideways, so we wanted somewhere close.  We decided on the Dogfish Bar and Grille on Free Street about a block away.  When we arrived, there were no other patrons at the restaurant; the weather clearly was keeping folks away.

We were met by an attractive hostess who brought us to a table well away from the door, which when opened blasted the inside with cold wind. Because our walk there was so miserable, we ordered a couple hot toddies to warm our spirits along with our usual “water with lemon.”

Photo of Bar Area at Dogfish Bar and Grille by Don Taylor | CC BY CA
Bar area - Dogfish Bar and Grill
Portland, ME
CC BY SA
The bar area looked very nice and well kept.  A dozen things on tap, a couple televisions, clean looking and inviting.

The drinks arrived just as we decided what to order.  My wife decided on a half rack of the St. Louis style pork ribs.  They come with coleslaw and chips.  When the server confirmed that the nachos were layered with cheese in between the layers, I decided to go with them.  I asked and our server, John, suggested the chili.  By the way, the hot toddies were just what we needed.

BBQ Ribs at Dogfish Bar and Grille by Don Taylor | CC BY CA
BBQ glazed pork ribs with coleslaw & chips
Dogfish Bar & Grill, Portland, ME
CC BY SA
The ribs were tender, not over sauced, and quite good.  The coleslaw was tasty, not overly sauced, savory, not sweet – Very good also.  The chips tasted like Cape Cod kettle chips.  They were as expected.  We both wished they had options other than chips.  Possibly oven browned potatoes or mashed potatoes would have been a better compliment to the BBQ glazed ribs. 

The nachos were rainbow tortilla chips with lot on top.  It looked very good.  I’m not sure I like the way the salsa bowl was placed on the top of the chips. It mashed the top down and detracted from the presentation. The salsa was quite bland and uninspiring. The jalapenos were the pickled canned variety and not fresh.  There was some cheese between the layers, but only a dusting and nothing else between the layers.  There wasn’t a lot of chili, but enough, I suppose.  The nachos were fine, but not inspiring.

Nachos with Chili at Dogfish Bar and Grille by Don Taylor | CC BY CA
Nachos with chili and salsa bowl on top.
Dogfish Bar & Grill, Portland, ME
CC BY SA

Ratings

  • Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
  • Food: 3 (Every item was okay, but nothing was outstanding.) 
  • Service: 4 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
  • Price: 4 (Lunch was under $12 each, not including drinks)
  • Value: 4 (For lunch I don’t know of many places nicer, more civilized, with better prices.)

Conclusion

The Dogfish Bar and Grille was fine.  However, there are probably 20 restaurants within a block and a half of the Cross Insurance Arena.  We’ll try some of the others before we return, but Dogfish Bar and Grille is still on our "okay to eat at" places in downtown Portland.  If you haven't eaten there, give it a try.
Dogfish Bar and Grille on Urbanspoon


Monday, January 19, 2015

Chia Sen, Scarborough, Maine


We were recently talking to a neighbor about Chinese restaurants in the area and she recommended Chia Sen on Payne Road.  It is next to the AT&T store, near Bull Moose, not too far from the Maine Mall.  We were in the area and thought we would give it a shot.

As we walked to the front door, the signs, “Fine Dining,” and “Chinese Cuisine,” promised a wonderful meal.  We were moderately disappointed when we didn’t see tablecloths, which are part of our definition of “fine dining.”  However, we were pleasantly greeted and brought to a nice table.

It took a long time for the waiter to stop by.  We ordered waters with lemon.  Because Chia Sen also has a full bar, we decided to order a couple “Bloody Mary’s.”  The waters were dropped off quickly and the waiter left without a word – Presumably to go to the bar to get our drinks.  The waters did not have the lemon, as we had asked for.  The “Bloody Mary’s” took quite a while longer to arrive.  When they did arrive, they were quite bland.  I’d have called them  “tomato juice with vodka,” and not much vodka.  It took quite a while for the waiter to finally return to take our orders.  He was busy but it seemed there were several other wait staff that weren’t doing much. 

Orange Beef at Chin Sen in Scarborough
Our favorite Chinese dish is Orange Beef so we ordered that.  I tried to explain to the waiter that on a scale of one to five we like a solid four.  He said they only do “spicy” and “not spicy.”  I indicated we’d take the spicy then.  My wife asked if the Orange Beef came with some broccoli as it often served that way at many restaurants.  The waiter indicted that it did.  So based upon his statement we ordered Pork Lo Mein as a second dish.

In a reasonable amount of time, the food arrived.  It looked really good.  However, no broccoli with the Orange Beef.  Had we known we’d have ordered the Broccoli in Garlic Sauce or some other veggie dish.  The Pork Lo Mein looked really good though.  We asked the waiter for some lemon to go with our waters.

Pork Lo Mein at Chin Sen in Scarborough 
The Orange Beef was cooked perfectly.  It had a nice crispy coating and the meat inside was cooked medium rare to medium.  Just an absolute treat.  It might have been one of the best Orange Beef orders ever except it had no heat.  The sauce was tasty, but with no heat to balance the sweetness of the sauce, it was not the perfect meal it could have been. As we ate the beef, we both realized there were no bad bits of meat – No gristle, no fatty edges.  Just really good meat.  Very nice.  The Pork Lo Mein was perfect.  It has an excellent proportion of meat and all of the meat bits were high quality – No gristle or fatty chunks there either.  The noodles were cooked as we like them and the sauce was savory.

During our meal a young man stopped by with a water pitcher and filled our waters from the pitcher. He was friendly and engaging.  It took a while after we were done eating for the waiter to bring us the check.  I had seen others take their checks up to the register and asked if we were to do so and he said, “Yes.”

When we went to the register, a lovely woman greeted us.  She seemed like she was probably an owner.  When we mentioned that Orange Beef could have used a bit more heat she we could have had it that way.  They are happy to accommodate any taste we prefer.

Ratings:

Ambiance: 4 (Nice, casual, good for conversations but not “fine dining.”)
Food: 4 (Every item was cooked perfectly.) 
Drinks: 3 (Bloody Mary’s were more like tomato juice.)
Service: 2 (Server mislead us about the Broccoli and the spice available. He was also abrupt and unfriendly.)
Price: 4 (Meal was under $12 each, not including drinks, for a sit-down meal.)
Value: 4 (I think our particular server was a problem, but the food was very good quality.)


We will definitely be back. 



Chia Sen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Weathervane, South Portland, ME

Weathervane Seafood Restaurant,
South Portland, Maine (Near the Maine Mall)
It is a rare day that my wife suggests we go out to eat at a seafood restaurant.  She said she had a “hankering for some scallops.”  She suggested Ken’s, which is just down the road from our home.  We headed down and found Ken’s closed for the season.  For some reason we were thinking they remained open – apparently not.  Anyway, knowing Bailey’s, The Clambake, and The Pine Point Grill were closed for sure, I had to think…. How about the Weathervane by the Maine Mall, I suggested.  She said “sure, why not” and away we went.



We were immediately met and seated by a friendly hostess.  Our waitress stopped by, we ordered some water with lemon and continued to review the menu.  The waters arrived with lemon and all was well.

Sea Scallops (Seafarer portion),
Onion Rings, & Coleslaw
Weathervane Seafood Restaurant,
We decided on sea scallops, for my wife, and Haddock for me.  They have what they call the “Seafarer Dinner” where they provide about half the protein for “those with lighter appetites.”  She also substituted French fries with onion rings for a $3 upcharge.

The waitress brought a plate with two plain dinner rolls, cold and uninspiring.  With it were two small packages of butter.  A pat of butter is 1-1/2 teaspoons, and these little "tubs" were probably the 1 teaspoon size.  Maybe smaller.  At least it was real butter.

Fried Haddock Dinner, with French Fries & Coleslaw
Weathervane Seafood Restaurant, South Portland, ME 
The food arrived quickly, in about eleven minutes.  Everything looked good.  I was a little disappointed in the coleslaw.  The serving was in a little cup and could have been a bigger cup.  I found the coleslaw to be delicious, not too sweet and not vinegary.  The fish was cooked very nicely and the portions were good.  The fries were uninspiring.  They do have “Uncle Hank’s French Fry Seasoning” which is quite tasty and a must to make the fries better.  My wife’s scallops were good, but a touch overcooked and a little sandy/gritty.  Certainly, we’ve had worse.  Her onion rings were really good, just the way she likes them.  Hand cut, hand battered, made to order.

During the meal, we were asked if we would like water refills, we said yes and the waitress brought fresh glasses with new lemon.  Very good.

We passed on dessert.

Ratings


  • Ambiance: 3 (Clean and open)
  • Food: 3 (haddock, 5; scallops, 3; onion rings, 5; fries, 2; Cole slaw 4. 
  • Service: 3 (Server was efficient.)
  • Price: 3 (Dinner was over $16 each, not including drinks)
  • Value: 3  


Overall, it was a good meal; not great, not bad.  I’m sure looking forward to spring and having the many seafood restaurants on Pine Point Road open once again.

Weathervane Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Uno Pizzeria & Grill - South Portland, Maine

Getting older is usually a pain, however, ever since I learned about Uno’s “double nickel” program, it definitely has its advantages.  The double nickel club give an awesome 30% discount to people over 55 on Wednesdays.  As such, Uno has become our Wednesday place to eat when we are out and about.

As we were out shopping last Wednesday, I suggested we eat at the Uno Pizzeria & Grill at 280 Maine Mall Road in South Portland, Maine.  We have eaten there several times before and have liked the food there in the past and at 30% off on Wednesday, I’m all about that.

We arrived for a late lunch, a bit before 2PM, and were greeted promptly by a hostess that took us to a table and gave us our menus.  A couple minutes later our server, Kayla, stopped by.  She wrote her name and a little happy face on a napkin and took our drink order—waters with lemon. The waters arrived and we still weren’t ready to order food. Kayla told us to take our time to consider our choices and she would be back in a little bit.

After a few minutes she returned and took our orders. Uncharacteristically for both us we ordered from the “Limited Time” offerings.  I decided on the Asiago and Roasted Garlic Gnocchi, “potato gnocchi stuffed with asiago and roasted garlic with sausage and roasted red peppers in a plum tomato sauce, baked in a deep dish pan.”   My wife decided on the Roasted Portobello Ravioli “served with wild mushrooms in a savory marsala sauce.“  Kayla then suggested a starter salad and we decided to go for it. I ordered the Goat Cheese with Glazed Walnuts “with blueberry Pomegranate vinaigrette” and my wife a Caesar. 

Spring Greens salad with goat
cheese and glazed walnuts
(Sorry, I ate on it a bit before
the picture was taken)
I have to say, the starter salads were larger than I expected.  My salad was awesome.  Really good—it was made with spring greens and had fresh blueberries, plenty of cheese and walnuts.  The dressing was a little sweeter than I prefer but still very good.  I’ll have to remember to order the dressing on the side next time, but that is a little thing.  I gave a taste to my wife who loved it too.  She asked that I remind her to order that salad the next time we come.  Her Caesar salad was as expected, made with romaine lettuce and had the right amount of cheese and dressing.  It was very good too. 

Asiago and Roasted Garlic Gnocchi
Our main courses arrived. Kayla asked if we desired parmesan cheese or peppers, we did and she quickly brought a couple shakers to the table. My Gnocchi looked really good, beautiful color, and the accompanying breadstick looked very good.  I guess my expectations were somewhat different from what arrived. I guess was expecting more of an Asiago d'allevo than an Asiago pressato. The d'allevo would have been a bit more solid and flavorful than what I received. What I got was something of a soft mushy gnocchi whose texture I really didn’t care for and the cheese inside was pretty bland. The sauce was really flavorful and had a great consistency—not too thick and not watery.  Sadly, the sausage bits were burned on one side.  Clearly the cook forgot them for a while.  The accompanying breadstick was very good, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Roasted Portobello Ravioli
My wife’s Ravioli was a disappointment.  She says it didn’t taste fresh, that the Marsala had sat around for a while and the mushrooms were severely overcooked.  There was even kind of a sauce ring around the plate what showed the dish had been in the oven too long.  She ate about half of it and took the rest home. It is still in the refrigerator several days later and will probably be tossed out. 

When we were about half-way through eating Kayla came by to check on our drinks. We both needed freshening on our waters.  Kayla brought new waters with lemon.  I often complain that many servers just add water to existing glasses and don't replenish the lemon. Kayla did both, something I really appreciated. 

There was a gap between the time we were done and when our server returned.  Part of that delay was, I am sure, because we both had a fill and wanted “person boxes” rather than were finishing our plates. We received a couple person boxes and the bill.  It was a nice touch that she brought both an original bill and a discounted bill with the double nickel discount applied.


Will we return? Absolutely.  The service was good; the food was okay—we’ll make different choices next time. The atmosphere is fun and lively, the location is perfect, being on the periphery of the Maine Mall, and the double nickel program is awesome.  If you are over 55, Uno Chicago Bar and Grill is definitely the place to go on Wednesdays. (By the way, if you don’t have a card, you can pick one up on your way into the restaurant.)

My ratings:


  • Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
  • Food:         3 (Past experiences were better than this visit .) 
  • Service:     5 (Server was friendly and attentive.)
  • Price:        4 (Lunch about $13 each (after double nickel discount)
  • Value:      5 (For lunch I don’t know of many places nicer, more civilized, with better prices.)


UNO Chicago Grill on Urbanspoon