by Joe Sherlock, The View Through The Windshield
A collection of restaurant impressions (listed alphabetically):
Bandera; Scottsdale, AZ: This establishment is located in the visitor mecca known as Old Town Scottsdale.
Remember when Old Town Anywhere wasn't a tourist destination but a notation on a police blotter, referring to a place where Mad Dog 20/20 was sold, down-on-their luck hookers were plentiful and at least one body would be found in a dark alley with a needle sticking out of his/her arm every night?
Today, every Old Town is a place with colorful flags emblazoned with 'Old Town' hung on faux-antique lamp posts and every upscale bar offers a pricey Syrah instead of Ripple.
Bandera is a great restaurant with signature drinks, a good wine list and well-prepared food. We started with a bottle of Flame Springs Merlot (2010) - a north Napa Valley offering with a pleasant, distinctive taste. We shared an appetizer - baked-in-the-skillet cornbread which had a glaze reminiscent of peanut brittle and was awesome. My fillet mignon was flavorful; my wife's butternut squash and cheese enchilada was quite tasty. The mashed potatoes were buttery and had good mouth feel.
Our server was engaging and we had a most enjoyable Saturday evening meal. Recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Black Bear Diner; Lake Havasu City, AZ: With 55 locations in nine Western states, Black Bear Diner serves generous portions of homestyle and old-fashioned comfort foods in a casual setting. The menu mimics an old newspaper and there are lots of bear-themed decorations throughout the restaurant.
They make a damn fine patty melt, too. Recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Cactus Ya Ya; Vancouver, WA: In 1993, this location was a convenience store, complete with gas pumps. I remember fueling up my '92 Nissan 300ZX there. Soon, the pumps were gone, the Mini Mart was gutted and remodeled to become Cactus Ya Ya and I was gassing myself up there instead.
I hadn't visited Ya Ya in ten years or so. The once-stylish, off-axis decor is the same but now looks a bit worn. The food is best described as Mexican-Latin-Southern fusion and contains eclectic items and combos you won't find elsewhere. The menu hasn't changed much, the old favorites - skewers with peanut sauce and mashed potatoes with garlic cream gravy are still available and the food is generally good.
My enchiladas were tasty but the rice side was bone dry and not very flavorful. My companion's lunch order was incorrect and it took a while for our waitress to return so that the error could be noted. When the bill was presented, she had forgotten to adjust the price and had to be reminded.
Cactus Ya Ya has a large bar but not much of a wine selection. It still provides an interesting dining experience and is worth the occasional visit. (3/6/13, permalink)
Cafe Forte; Scottsdale, AZ: Located in the Scottsdale Art District near Old Town, this small establishment offers a limited selection of fine Italian food. Each dish was carefully prepared from scratch.
|Arts District of Scottsdale at dusk - Cafe Forte is on the left with the red patio umbrellas.
We dined here twice - once for lunch and once for dinner. Lunch was perfect but the dinner lasagna was vegan and mushy. Also, some vegetables were overcooked. (2/15/13, permalink)
The Capital Grille; Scottsdale, AZ: This upscale chain of restaurants has 45 locations in 20 states but I had not heard of them before. Capital Grille is part of the Darden Restaurants empire, along with Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
Capital Grille specializes in steaks and my filet mignon was top notch.
The service was exceptional, the staff was friendly and the wine list is extensive. We had a most pleasant time. Highly recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Cazadero Inn; Estacada, OR: Located in the old lumber town of Estacada, the Cazadero Inn offers a great view of the Clackamas River from its glass-walled dining room.
The exterior of the restaurant is nondescript and the interior is a bit dated but the food is delicious and the service is outstanding. Entree prices are surprisingly reasonable. Recommended. (2/22/13, permalink)
Charlies Bistro; Vancouver, WA: When my office was in downtown Vancouver, this nearby location was the site of a nondescript sandwich shop.
The site has since undergone a remarkable transformation, with more upscale decor, new ownership and a creative menu. Were it located in Portland's trendy Pearl District, Charlies would be famous, pricier and a lot busier.
This establishment offers above-par casual American cuisine carefully prepared and well-presented. The wood-accented decor is warm and inviting.
We dine here every few weeks and are never disappointed. We usually begin with an appetizer of Charlies rosemary fries; they are flavorful and have a good mouth feel. I also recommend the onion soup.
Charlies has a full bar, with decent selections of wine and beer. (1/4/13, permalink)
Cheesecake Factory; Phoenix, AZ: This is just one example of the 150+ restaurants is located in the U.S. The chain offers an eclectic menu, big portions, and, of course, cheesecake. Every one I’ve ever patronized has offered tasty entrees, prepared to order as well as prompt, friendly service.
This one, located in tony Biltmore Fashion Park was no exception. The only difference was the lights were dimmed, perhaps to emulate the interior of the somber, architecturally-dreary Arizona Biltmore resort which was designed by the architecturally-dreary Frank Lloyd Wright. But the food shined through and brightened our day. (2/15/13, permalink)
Chompie’s Deli; Scottsdale, AZ: Calling itself "Arizona's New York Deli, Restaurant, Bagel Factory, Bakery and Catering," this noisy, busy place with the cool neonized New York murals on the walls pretty much delivers on its claim. The food is excellent; sandwiches are piled high with meat and the marble rye bread is delicious.
Try the seven-layer cake for dessert: Oy vey! It's good. (2/15/13, permalink)
Dulin's Cafe; Vancouver, WA: Open for breakfast and lunch, this restaurant is located where the old Holland Restaurant used to be. The Holland is considered "legendary" to many long-term Vancouverites. I dined there a couple of times and was underwhelmed. Dulin's has now been around long enough that it has created its own legend.
Dulin's Cafe is located in the no-man's land between downtown Vancouver (which, aside from the empty offices/storefronts and lack of parking is pretty decent as downtowns go) and the recently-designated Uptown Village (which, depending on the niceness of the weather and your personal mood, is either quirkily charming or borderline seedy).
The first good thing is that Dulin's has a dedicated, more-than-adequate parking area behind the building. Once you step inside, the decor is pleasant although it's looking a bit worn these days but that's because Dulin's is relocating in a few months.
Dulin's has a diverse menu with a variety of offerings. The waitresses are friendly and efficient, the portions are generous but food prep takes a while because everything is cooked to order. During my latest visit, I had Megan's Potatoes - a very tasty breakfast dish.
I have visited this establishment several times and always had a good dining experience. If I lived nearer to Dulin's, I'd probably become a regular. If you're in the area, I recommend you give this neighborhood joint a try. (4/25/13, permalink)
Hockinson Kountry Cafe; Battle Ground, WA: Once a local favorite in rural Hockinson, this restaurant moved to west Battle Ground in 2010.
We've dined here often and are always pleased with the food and service, The efficient and friendly wait staff delivers the meal to your table quickly. The food is homemade, comfort-style and generous in portion. For dessert, the pies are legendary. And the prices are small-town reasonable.
The parking lot is a bit small for this popular restaurant, so get there early. HKC closes early - 3:00 pm.
The Hockinson Kountry Cafe is so stellar, it has rebuffed the 'Location of Death' aura and is not haunted by the ghosts of other, failed reastaurants at this site. If you want details of that story, just visit my posting about it. (1/4/13, permalink)
Julie's Cottage Kitchen; Dollars Corner, WA: I could kick myself because this establishment has been around for almost 20 years and we only discovered it last year. To think that I could have been experiencing fine homemade, comfort-style, generous-portion entrees during a period straddling two millennia.
The staff is friendly, fast and attentive; the food is plentiful and flavorful. I usually order the patty melt which is at least as good as the ones at Twenty 6 in La Quinta, CA. That's saying something. Julie's onion rings are far above par, as well.
The restaurant is small and the atmosphere is cozy. The parking lot tends to fill up because, it seems every patron drives his/her own rig. (1/4/13, permalink)
La Hacienda; Scottsdale AZ: Located in the Fairmount resort complex, this establishment is hard to find and a bit of a hike but worth the trouble. The high-zoot Mexican food is so full of flavor that the various items on one's plate compete for your taste buds' attention. The wine selection is good; the service is impeccable - at least from Ray, our server - and the atmosphere is delightful.
I had a filet mignon served over two cheese enchiladas, a combination I've not experienced in 33 years. The second time was much better because the restaurant was much better. There was a very nice fountain and llghted palm trees on the patio.
TripAdvisor ranked La Hacienda 30 out of 745 restaurants in Scottsdale. Although it is on the expensive side, it deserves its high rank. (2/15/13, permalink)
La Vita Dolce; Lake Havasu City, AZ: This is a busy and lively place that fills up quickly, so reservations are a good idea. The food is excellent; the servers are friendly and fast. I had the meat lasagna which was very tasty and big. La Vita Dolce is reasonably priced, too. Recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Las Mesitas; Battle Ground WA: The name is Spanish for 'small tables' yet all I saw inside were large tables for groups and booths. My booth seat was lumpier than a sack of dead chihuahuas.
The decor was tired and dated; it embraced just about every cliche-ridden Mexican decorating idea ever tried.
The salsa, which a few restaurant reviewers lauded, was unexceptional and the food, including the lard-laced rice, was nothing to write home about. The service was slow and disorganized.
Verdict: don't bother, amigo. (4/29/13, permalink)
LAMP Wood Oven Pizzeria; Scottsdale AZ: Cooked using pecan wood, the resulting pizzas are awesomely delicious. We shared a classic Margherita Pizza and enjoyed every bite.
The staff was friendly and the service was prompt. Highly recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery; Battle Ground, WA: We've been dining here - off and on - for over three years. The food is OK but the kitchen seems very slow and the wait staff ranges from clueless to indifferent to very good.
Because we can't be assured of having a satisfactory dining experience at Laurelwood, we've stopped patronizing this establishment. We'll spend our hard-earned money someplace more predictable. (1/24/13, permalink)
Macayo's Mexican Kitchen; Scottsdale, AZ: My wife and I have a soft spot for this Arizona chain, having shared our first Mexican meal at one of the Phoenix locations 35 years ago. The restaurant still does some things very well. The service is prompt and friendly, the decor is well-maintained and easy-on-the-eyes and the signature cheese crisp appetizers are very tasty.
The albondigas soup is very flavorful. The tortilla chips are light and delicate and the salsa is excellent. But the enchilada's corn tortillas are leaden and the Mexican rice is flavorless and rough. My wife had salmon tacos; the fish was overcooked and dry.
We may well return to Macayo's again but with the realization that sone things are better in memories than they are in contemporary life. (2/15/13, permalink)
Manzana Rotisserie Grill; Lake Oswego, OR: I'm a sucker for wood paneling and accents, so I had a good first impression of the place.
The menu is described as "Northwest specialties prepared with fresh ingredients and a southwestern influence." That's all well and good but I can only say that my luncheon experience was very satisfactory, featuring well-prepared, tasty food and attentive, friendly staff. I'll be back. (3/22/13, permalink)
Mastro's Steakhouse; Scottsdale AZ: Everything at this upscale eatery is top notch, from the decor to the snow white tablecloths, to the impeccable service, to the varieties of breads in the basket, to the quality of the meat, to the taste of the huge twice-baked potato and to the views of the sun setting across the scrub, khaki terrain and cactus-filled flatlands.
No wonder TripAdvisor participants voted this establishment #2 out of 741 area restaurants. Mastro's is a bit pricey but worth every penny. Highly recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Mill Creek Pub; Battle Ground, WA: Once upon a time, this was Lloyd's Grill - a nicely carpeted restaurant with a handsome natural stone fireplace and an upscale feel.
When it became the Mill Creek Pub a little over a year ago, the new owner basically gutted the place, removing the carpet and the fireplace, substituting a cracked concrete floor with saw cuts where someone misjudged a trim line and a large wooden water wheel which revolves in a large, shallow tank of water. A not-very-pleasant wet wood smell emanates from the wheel, reminding me of a New Jersey shore boardwalk after a Nor'easter or a half-sunken rowboat at an abandoned Pocono Lake resort.
Whoever did the decor should be shot. Rustic 'stuff' combined with corrugated tin indoor overhangs provide a neglected-junkyard atmosphere.
Despite the decidedly negative ambiance, the food here is surprisingly good - decidedly better-than-average pub food. My dining companion raved about the fish & chips. My Classic Cheeseburger, described as a "Kobe-style, 1/3 pound burger" was quite tasty although it didn't seem very Kobe-like to me. The fries were surface crisp and properly-cooked. As an appetizer, we had big hot delicious pretzels with Jalapeno cheese dip. The service was prompt, friendly and attentive.
Verdict: Recommended as long as you wear dark glasses. Or blinders. (1/24/13, permalink)
Mimi's Cafe; Scottsdale AZ: Offering flavorful roast turkey dinners, the menu states, "Any day can be Thanksgiving." Non-turkey menu items are also very good. The portions are large, the prices are very reasonable and the place fills up quickly with dangerously hungry geezers armed with canes and walkers. Go early to get a good table. On Wine Wednesdays, bottles of vino are half-priced.
The decor is country French with a dash of New Orleans, if you care about such things. In 1982, we dined at a Mimi's Cafe in Anaheim, California - the original one. It was a memorable and enjoyable meal. Now Mimi's can be found in 22 states. Recommended. (2/15/13, permalink)
Olive Garden; East Vancouver, WA: It's easy to mock the Olive Garden chain. Just as Domino's and Pizza Hut blanderized the pizza pie in an effort to offend no one in Iowa or South Dakota, Olive Garden once specialized in inoffensive and forgettable dishes approved by focus-groups anywhere in the U.S. where the Italian demographic was low.
In the 1950s, there were thousands of wonderful mom-and-pop Italian eateries, ranging from plain-jane places with linoleum-topped tables to fancier establishments with indirect lighting and wall murals. All offered wonderful Italian food. But the owners got old and wanted to retire. Unfortunately, their children - having gone to college and now working in high-paying, dress-up desk jobs - had no interest in slaving over a hot kitchen stove. Most of these neighborhood establishments closed. And Olive Garden moved in.
The Vancouver Mall location once provided us with one of the worst dining experiences ever. Bland food, terrible teenybopper service in an atmosphere reminiscent of a low-end retirement home dining hall.
Several years ago, the Darden Restaurants empire, owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille and other chains, wised up, redecorated its restaurants and substantially improved the menu, as well as the dining staff, now comprised of post-teen, responsible folks.
Today's Olive Garden is better than Tony's Junior Villa, Angelo's Little Italy, Spaghetti Eddie's or The Villa Napoli of mom-and-pop yore. We recently dined at the East Vancouver location and found the decor to be warm and inviting, the food to be tasty (I'm particularly fond of the Lasagna Classico), the wine selection more than adequate and the service exceptional. A few months ago, I visited the dreaded Vancouver Mall Olive Garden and found it to be much improved. Recommended. (5/17/13, permalink)
Oregano's Pizza Bistro; Scottsdale, AZ: Its clever ad slogan is "Cheese: it’s the new lettuce." And, boy, did our Chicago-style deep dish pizza have cheese. I was full after only 2 slices of a 10-inch pie. My wife’s salad was humongous and delicious.
The service was great and the decor was funky but interesting. Go early. Oregano's doesn’t take reservations and the line to get in can get quite long. (2/15/13, permalink)
Pastini Pastaria; Corvallis, OR: This mini-chain has eight locations, most in the Portland area. Sadly, there are none in Southwest Washington - otherwise we'd be dining there often.
Pastini calls itself a "homegrown Oregon Italian bistro with a passion for pasta. Our reverence for the splendid noodle has inspired us to create over 30 classic and contemporary Italian pasta dishes using fresh, local ingredients in the tradition of the neighborhood bistros of Italy." My experience is that Pastini is better than many bistros I've encountered in Italy.
We've dined at various Pastini locations and have always had a delightful time. The food is consistent and well-prepared, the tomato sauce is awesome and the spumoni ice cream is delicious. And the waitpeople are properly attentive.
I recommend a side serving of Pastini's massive and tasty meatballs. Yum. (3/14/13, permalink)
Philly Bilmos; Vancouver, WA: This East Vancouver shopping center sandwich shop has Philadelphia memorabilia on the walls and offers great cheese steaks and pizza steaks, served on authentic-tasting rolls - an important component of a proper Philly steak. We've been patronizing this place since 2006 and the only change is that Bilmos is becoming more popular and busy. Good for them.
I've tried just about every establishment in the Pacific Northwest claiming to offer "genuine" Philly cheese steaks; this one is the closest I've found to the Real Thing. All that was missing was the rattle of pots and pans as the Frankford El rolls by. And Rocky Balboa yelling, "Yo, Adrian!"
Philly Bilmos also offers TastyKake cupcakes as well as other Tasty products. So you can still get your TastyFix while living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. What more do you need? (1/4/13, permalink)
Shugrue's Restaurant; Lake Havasu City, AZ: Overlooking the lake at the end of London Bridge, this establishment is a favorite with locals. Specializing in steak and seafood, the fare was most satisfactory; the service was excellent and the view of Lake Havasu and London Bridge was as good as it gets.
But no one could explain why there was carpeting mounted on the underside of our oak dining table. A mystery. (2/15/13, permalink)
South Pacific Cafe and Lounge; Battle Ground, WA: Rising from the ashes of the defunct 15 East and with some of the same staff, this new restaurant has the comfortable feel of a neighborhood hangout.
The food it pretty good and, during Happy Hour, the drinks are cheap. It's a good spot for spur-of-the-moment casual dining. (1/4/13, permalink)
Spotted Donkey Cantina, el Pedregal; Scottsdale, AZ: Located in the hard-to-find and mostly-empty el Pedregal shopping area in the Boulders Resort, this upscale Mexican place offers outstanding, if pricey entrees. Want chips and salsa? It'll cost you $6.00. We passed. Two enchiladas can be had - according to the online menu - for $12.00. Actual price on the el Pedrega printed menu - $15.50. The food is surprisingly good; unfortunately, the menu pricing is a different sort of surprise.
Service was excellent. While our lunch was delicious, the difference between the website menu and real-world one left a bad taste. (2/15/13, permalink)
Stardust Diner; Vancouver, WA: Located in east Vancouver on SE 164th Avenue, this stainless steel recreation of a classic 1950s diner offers an authentic diner experience.
I've eaten here several times since the place opened in the mid-1990s. The food is well-prepared, tasty and the portions are plentiful. Prices at the Stardust are diner-reasonable. Everything appears to be home-made.
The menu is diner-like, featuring well-loved American recipes, although most diners of yore offered a larger and more diverse selection of entrees. Like Terry's or The Mayfair.
Stardust's staff is friendly and not easily flustered, even when the place is packed. There's an old-style jukebox (and mini-jukes at some of the tables), walls are adorned with old ads, especially auto-related items and period glass block is used on some of the partitions.
The Stardust also sponsors a car show in August of each year. Recommended. (1/4/13, permalink)
Tiger Lily Restaurant & Bar; Vancouver, WA: Let's start with the name. When this restaurant opened late last year, I figured that it offered some kind of Asian food. Turns out, it's primarily a burger joint. Who knew?
This unlucky location was once a hairdressing school and has hosted a plethora of failed restaurants ever since. The tables are quite spread out and the place seems too upscale for a sandwich purveyor. The decor is generic with no obvious connection to much of anything, especially the restaurant's name.
The food is good and prices are fairly modest, but Tiger Lily serves its patty melts with mustard slathered on the rye bread. How bizarre. I ordered mine Without. It tasted fine but was not as good as Julie's Cottage Kitchen up the road.
My wife's fish and chips order was generous in size and tasty. Two potato sides are offered: tiger petals (fried coin-shaped discs) or tiger bombs (seasoned tater tots). Tater tots? How very 1970s. The tiger petals seemed to be made fresh and were a welcome change from the usual side-o-fries.
There were disturbing audio issues during our visit - the not very pleasant hipster music was jarringly interrupted by other noise - loud piano and other audio insertions - several times during our meal.
There was an odd vibe to Tiger Lily. It wasn't very busy - even at 6:30 on a Saturday night - and the other customers were nothing like us. We felt no sense of camaraderie at this place; unlike the competing Charlies Bistro, located just around the corner. We drove by Charlies on the way home and it was quite busy.
Tiger Lily's food was OK but I don't think we'll be back. Too weird. (5/7/13, permalink)
Uncle D's Wood Fired Pizza; Battle Ground, WA: Located at the site of a failed burger joint (The Coachmen) in Battle Ground Village, this recently-opened restaurant offers a variety of gourmet-type, thin crust pizzas. Build-your-own is discouraged as the available toppings are limited.
That said, the pizza is delicious and reasonably priced. Drinks are limited to soda pop and iced tea; Uncle D's doesn't offer wine or beer. Place your order at the counter, pay in advance and wait - although the pizzas arrive quickly at your table on large plywood paddles. Tableside rolls of paper towels are your napkins, although the silverware is real rather than plastic.
Seating and decor are basic and forgettable. The place can be drafty due the two large glazed overhead garage-style doors that open up in the summer. They are neither well-sealed nor insulated.
Unless the weather is sunny and summery, dress warmly and don't sit near the overhead doors. (5/27/13, permalink)
Vinnie's Pizza; Vancouver, WA: Located downtown at the former site of a McDonald's Express (and you thought McDonald's locations never went out of business), Vinnie's is far more than a mere pizza joint, offering appetizers, salads, calzones, strombolis, lasagna and pasta dishes. Desserts are also offered including spumoni ice cream, a rare find at Italian restaurants these days.
A selection of beers and wines is available. The most expensive wine on the list was a $20/bottle chianti; it was excellent. I've frequently had a very hearty but simple lasagna (meat, cheese, noodles, basil - no olives, mushrooms or other items which screw things up). The garlic bread that accompanies it is not much to look at but tasted OK. Pizzas are flavorful and tasty. The restaurant's website claims an ancestral New York heritage for its pizza recipes.
The decor is minimalist with subdued colors and a selection of local art framed and mounted on the walls. Servers are friendly and attentive. Prices are modest. Vinnie's has two Clark County locations under the same ownership; the original Vinnie's is in Ridgefield, WA.
Google claims there are 78,800 results for 'Vinnie's Pizza', suggesting that there are thousands of restaurants with that name across the U.S. I'm betting that most of them are not as good as this one. (1/4/13, permalink)
More Restaurant Reviews can be found here.
copyright 2013 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.