Maxie’s Southern Comfort – Milwaukee

May 26, 2007

Short Take: Nice place, but too spicy for our wussy mid-western taste-buds.

Long Take: Higgins was in charge of planning this week’s outing and chose Maxie’s as the middle part of long evening on the town. Maxie’s just recently opened in Milwaukee (they appear to have a location in New York, as well.) When Willamina and Higgins arrived at the restaurant, they were in a good mood– and the mood continued upon our seeing the establishment. It was 9:00 on a Friday evening and the place was still hopping. The hostesses at the door were friendly and said we would have a table in fifteen minutes (it was closer to 5.) Maxie’s has a downstairs and an upstairs– with a full bar on both levels. We chose the upstairs as it was quieter. The decor and atmosphere was quite pleasant.

Maxie’s serves Southern style food (think Missippi delta) with an upscale twist. Our server, Jessie, was very prompt and helpful. He wasn’t overly friendly, but he was attentive, polite, and very informative. After a number of questions and some deliberation, Higgins and Willamina ordered a cup of Crab and Corn Chowder, a Pulled Pork Sandwhich, and the Pan-Roasted Carolina Grouper.

Crab and Corn Chowder – Willamina and Higgins LOVE corn chowder. Crab and corn chowder, even moreso. Unfortunately, we were not impressed with this version. To its credit, it was full of crab and corn. No skimping there. To its detriment, it was full of lots of other things as well. It was a mish-mash of tastes and textures, including some spices we couldn’t identify and didn’t particularly care for. Willamina ate a couple of spoonfuls. Higgins finished it, but wouldn’t order it again. Jessie told us that many people react to the chowder by calling it very “Unusual and Interesting.” Willamina and Higgins do not believe that should be considered a compliment with chowder.

Corn Bread – Each meal is served with a basket of corn bread and a special orange infused butter. Higgins loves cornbread. This cornbread was… OK. It was extremely crumbly and not too sweet. It also didn’t have the rich corn flavor one hopes for. The orange infused butter was… very orangey. (Is that a word?) Normally, cornbread is served with a maple or honey blended butter. Orange infused butter is slightly sweet, but Higgins wasn’t a fan of it. Again, interesting– but not something to repeat.

Pulled Pork Sandwhich – The pulled pork was wonderfully cooked. It was so tender it literally melted in your mouth. It wasn’t too vinegarry, which Willamina appreciated. Unfortunately, while its heat-level was low-to-moderate, it proved to be too much for our intrepid heroes. The sandwhich comes with a large side of creamy cole-slaw. The cole-slaw was lacking in flavor– not bad, just not great. The plate also contained a large serving of BBQ Beans. If the pork was a little too hot, the BBQ Beans were unpleasantly, deceptively spicy. They also contained green peppers. Willamina and Higgins do not believe green peppers belong in BBQ Beans– or many items intended for consumption. We didn’t finish anything on this plate.

Pan-Roasted Carolina Grouper – Higgins would like to confess that he had never had grouper before and was really ordering this entree for its side-dishes, Maple-braised Collard Greens and Hushpuppies. (You may remember that Higgins has a thing for hushpuppies.) Higgins now knows that he is not terribly fond of Grouper. It is a whitefish, and fairly tasteless. The charred tomato-corn relish served over the grouper was intended to address this lack of flavor, unfortunately, it appears they had replaced the charred tomatoes with charred onions. This was not a successful substitution. Once the relish and the charred fish-skin had been removed, the Grouper was naked and exceedingly bland. The Collard Greens, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were cooked just right. Not over-cooked, as they can be sometimes. Not too sweet. Not too earthy. Layers of flavor and delicious. The hushpuppies were a little dry and not very tasty.

Beverages – Willamina had a glass of riesling, though the name escapes her and we forgot to write it down. Higgins had a bottle of Sprecher Root Beer served with a frosted glass. (The way root beer should be served.) To combat the cumulative heat of the pulled pork, Willamina also ordered a diet-cola. Maxie’s serves Black Bear soda– a small regionally-bottled brand. Willamina was not impressed.

Maxie’s had a lot of options for carnivores and vegetarians. They were friendly and the food was prepared well. If friends from the south came for a visit, we’d take them to Maxie’s. Otherwise, I’m afraid it is just more than we can handle.

Advertisement

Mitchell’s Fish Market – Brookfield

May 19, 2007

Short Review: Excellent service. Well prepared, flavorful seafood. Great experience.

Long Review:
For this week’s Epicurean Encounter, Willowmina suggested a recently opened restaurant, Mitchell’s Fish Market. Higgins was suspicious– what with Mitchell’s being a part of a large chain of restaurants and being located at–gasp–the mall. But, MFM did have a well designed website and a very interesting menu, so off we went.

We went on a Friday afternoon, about 5:30 or so, without reservations. We were seated immediately. (When we left an hour or so later, the waiting line was out the door.) The atomosphere of the restaurant is wide open, with booths and tables, though there is an upper scale feel to it. Lots of dark woods. The kitchen is open to viewing through large windows, as is their “cutting room”. They proudly state that the fish is delivered every day and cut in the cutting room. (We did not go look in the cutting room–though it appeared to be empty from where we were sitting.)

Service was quick, professional, friendly, and well-informed. The server had tried everything on the menu and was able to answer every one of the questions we fired his way. At the same time, he wasn’t pushy or pretentious. Willowmina ordered a drink, the Sun Splash (Grey Goose L’Orange Vodka, Grand Marnier, fresh OJ, and club soda.) It looked like pink lemonade but she quite enjoyed the taste. Higgins tried it, noting that it had multiple layers of flavor.

As we were not too hungry, we skipped over the appetizers–though many items looked good. We did order a cup of Main Lobster Bisque. (We LOVE Lobster Bisque.) This was an exceptionally good bisque. The aroma was enticing and promised a rich, earthy flavor. The taste delivered on that promise. While it was not the best Lobster Bisque we have had, it was certainly one of the better ones. There wasn’t as much lobster in it as we expected, but the taste was so good–we didn’t mind. The soup came with a mini-loaf of a light sourdough bread–served warm with a whipped butter. It was a delicious bread. Lightly crusty on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. The mini-loaf disappeared quickly, and was just as quickly replaced with another one.

In order to try as many things as possible, we each ordered a combination platter. Willowmina ordered the MFM Fried Combo Platter and Higgins ordered the Fish Market Trio. Normally, when ordering combo platters, you are faced with two problems. One, they always contain something you don’t like and rarely are substitutions welcome. Two, the portions of each item is so small, sharing is harder to accomplish. Neither of these were the case at Mitchells. When we asked if we could substitute a different preparation for items in the platters, we were told, “Of course. What would you like?” That was refreshing. Willowmina switched our her fried scallops for grilled scallops. Higgins asked for his blackened swordfish to be grilled.

MFM FRIED COMBO PLATTER
Beer Battered Gulf Shrimp – The batter was very tasty, having a tangy flavor (probably from the beer) that really highlighted the taste of the three very large shrimp. They were not too greasy and were quite yummy.

Grilled Scallops – Again, three very large scallops. Perfectly cooked. It is hard to cookd a scallop, especialy the larger ones, correctly. You have to make sure the inside is fully cooked (we do not like scallop sushi) but if you over cook it the outside becomes rubbery and/or chewy. These were creamy, melt-on-your tongue done. And the flavors! They were almost too rich for our midwestern sensibilities.

Battered Pacific Cod – A different batter, with a little less flavor. Again, not too greasy. The cod inside was tender and flaky, and flavorful.

Sea Salt French Fries – the only thing on the plate that underwhelmed us. Small, narrow french fries. Not too greasy, not too soggy, not too crispy. Not too anything.

Hush Puppies – Some of the best Higgins has had. They were perfectly cooked. Slightly crisp on the outside, soft and pillowy tender on the inside. Very tasty–but spicier than hush puppies usually are. They seemed to have an unfamiliar spice in them–one that made them way to spicy for Willowmina and uncomfortable for Higgins.

Creamy Cabbage Coleslaw – Wonderful. Creamy. Sweet. With small carrot pieces. It was a very good coleslaw.

THE FISH MARKET TRIO
Grilled Swordfish – The swordfish was good, though hard to taste. It has been grilled as requested, but was served atop the jambalaya rice (probably where the blackened swordfish would have been served). As such, the jambalaya spices got onto the swordfish and overwhelmed the natural flavor. No real complaints, but can’t speak to the fish itself.

Grilled Atlantic Salmon – Both the swordfish and the salmon pieces were small squares–but more than enough to eat and share. The salmon was a wonderful explosion of natural flavor. We haven’t tasted salmon that good since we were visiting Seattle. The fish was cooked perfectly and had a creamy texture and flavor to it. It was an absolute joy. Again, its richness was almost more than we could handle.

Shan Hai Sea Scallops – Three scallops, the same size as the ones on Willowmina’s plate, sitting in a small bowl of ginger, scallion, soy sauce. They were more gummy than the grilled scallops, though still tasty. The sauce did accent them nicely.

Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya Rice – Had a nice, flavorful heat to it. More than Willowmina could handle, but within Higgin’s safe tolerance zone. The andouille sausage was cut in tiny pieces and flavored the rice nicely. The shrimp was either non-existent or hidden exceptionally well.

Asparagus – The only bad thing on the plate. Three spears (they like the number three, don’t they?) of very large, mature asparagus. They were actually too large, too mature. They weren’t at the woody stage, but they were more bitter and grainy than good asparagus should be. They were left unfinished on the plate.

DESSERT
We were both rather full from the entrees, but wanted to try something on the dessert menu. We were torn between the Sharkfin Pie and the Seven Layer Carrot Cake. We were told that the Carrot Cake did not include raisins (we can not abide raisins in our desserts), but ultimately chose to split the Sharkfin Pie (butterfudge ice cream, honey roasted peanuts, fudge, peanut butter, an oreo cookie crust, and, of course, whip cream). The server came back with two plates, a large slice of ice cream pie on each one! Higgins looked at him and said, “We wanted to split a piece.” To which our server replied, “I did split it.” We looked at our plates with amazed concern. One piece of Sharkfin Pie could serve as a dessert for four people, it seems. In addition to being plentiful, it was also delicious. The ice cream was from Homer’s and the pie is assembled fresh every day. We would be inclined to question the practice of importing ice cream from Illinois to the Dairy State–but we can’t argue with the results. That was a really good ice cream. The pie was a mess on the plate, with all of the ingredients, but it was a delicous combination.

As we were finishing the pie (or not finishing– we were pretty full), the assistant manager came to our table and spoke with us for a few minutes. It was more than the perfunctory “hi folks, how is everything”. It was a very pleasant visit and made us feel welcome. Another level of service.

At the end of the meal, 1 soup, 2 entrees, 1 drink, 1 beverage, and 1 drink came to $67 (not including the tip.) We tipped high and thought it was well deserved.

We WILL be returning to Mitchell’s. Probably soon.

[In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Higgins did suffer a slight upset stomach later in the evening– we do not believe this is the fault of the restaurant, the quality of the food, or the means of preparation. Rather, the fresh seafood was rather rich. Also, there is a possibility that a spice he is allergic to was present in the hush puppies or the jambalaya. He knew this, knew it might mean an upset stomach, and ate both of them anyway– finishing both. They tasted that good. As such, any problems he had are purely on his head. Willomina was fine.]


The Olive Garden

May 13, 2007

Short Review: Fun for appetizers, drinks, salad, and breadsticks; entrees are average at best.

We had a guest visiting us yesterday and when it came time for dinner, we decided to go out. He decided that we was in the mood for Italian. W suggested we go to the Olive Garden, which is right around the corner from us.
H, with his natural bias against chains, said, “We do have a couple of other close Italian places we could go to.”
Our guest asked, “Are any of them better than the Olive Garden?”
After a few seconds of thinking, H said, “No, not really.”

Lesson learned, we headed off to the Olive Garden.

The beautiful thing about chains, the reason they are so popular, is that they all look the same. If you’ve been to one restaurant in a chain, you pretty much know what to expect in every other one in the chain. Which isn’t entirely true. Some restaurants have different menu items than others based on geographical location. The Olive Garden website has a full menu listed, and has the added touch of linking to your zip code for accuracy. We’ve eaten at this Olive Garden before, so no surprises. This review will focus on the items on the menu that we’ve tried.

Appetizers:
Sampler Italiano – a sampling of two or three appetizers. You can choose from calamari, stuffed mushrooms, fried zucchini, chicken fingers, fried mozzarella, or toasted ravioli. We are a sucker for these sampler offerings. We’ve tried most of them in this list.
Calamari – a light batter, fried, but very good. The calamari is the right texture.
Stuffed Mushrooms – Not bad, but not a favorite. Lots of moisture/grease.
Fried Mozzarella – Always good. Can’t go wrong with fried cheese.
Toasted Ravioli – Very tasty. Fairly basic, but everyone likes ’em.

Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta – this was a new item on the menu. A dish of oven baked fondue including mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, and romano cheeses. Often, when a restaurant serves a dip or fondue, they skimp on the spread or on the dipping breads. This is NOT the case here. We received a fondue that could feed 4 people, and enough toasted bread slices to make a dent in it. We did run out of bread slices before we ran out of fondue, but we couldn’t eat any more. (And Olive Garden provides all-you-can-eat, fresh, warm bread sticks, so we could have had more cheese-delivery-devices if we had wanted them.) Folks, this was one yummy dish. There was just a hint of red pepper flakes to give it some bite, but not enough to offend our sensitive mid-western taste buds. We will be ordering this one again.

Entrees:
Tour of Italy – Our guest ordered this entree sampler. It includes a portion of meat lasagna, a piece of chicken parmigiana, and a small sampling of fettuccine alfredo. The chicken parmigiana was tasty and not soggy (a common problem with that dish.) The lasagna was acceptable, but nothing to write home about. (W makes a much better one. One of the reasons we are so fussy, really.) The fettuccine alfredo– well it was mostly forgettable. Not bad, but not good either.

Steak Gorgonzola-Alfredo – H ordered this entree. It was…a major disappointment. The gorgonzola alfredo sauce was a little over-powering, and not in a pleasant way. Worse, however, were the steak pieces. H ordered the steak to be medium. Somewhow, even though all the similairly sized pieces were cooked together on one skewer, they were all done differently. They ranged from well-done all the way to dangerously rare. (H has been known to eat a good steak tartare– but meat should be served raw only when ordered as such.)

Ravioli di Portobello – We’ve ordered this one in the past. Portobello filled ravioli in a creamy smoked cheese and sun-dried tomato sauce. It sounds better than it its. The ravioli were a little gummy and didn’t match well with the portobello mush within. Some may like this, but we haven’t ordered it again.

Stuffed Chicken Marsala – An oven roasted chicken breast stuffed with Italian cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes, topped with mushrooms and creamy marsala sauce. W ordered this one. She was underwhelmed. The chicken was cooked right, so kudos there. Unfortunately, the marsala sauce was a little greasy. And the stuffing tasted more like breading than like sun-dried tomatoes. Our guest tried some and found the breading stuffing to be off-putting. It wasn’t a bad dish, but certainly not a memmorable one.

Drinks:
Sangria – W is a big fan of sangria. She is also, you guessed it, fussy about her sangria. She wisely asked for a sample of their white sangria. It was, and this was a shocker to us, too sweet. Terribly sweet. H tasted it and believes it is a sangria mix that includes corn syrup. It left that subtle film on the tongue consistent with high fructose corn syrup. Ewwww. Strangely, our guest found it quite yummy.

Veneitan Sunset – A pretty mixture of Martini & Rossi Asti with pineapple and cherry juices. H ordered this one. (Yes, he was slightly disappointed when it didn’t come with the tiny umbrella.) It was delicious. Not too sweet. Not too sour. Refreshing and just plain good. Best of all, it didn’t make H all loopy (he is such a cheap date.) We might have to both order one of those next time.

No room for dessert this time.


Hectors (Wauwatosa, WI)

May 11, 2007

Short Reveiw: Little atmosphere, bad margaritas, unimpressive food. Won’t be returning.

Hectors came highly reccomended on the OnMilwaukee website. Hectors has a website with a full menu listed. The menu looks very impressive, with many vegetarian options.

We went on a Friday night and were seated immediately.
The place has little atmosphere and ambience. It is mostly a bar with room to eat in.
The menu was as advertised, unfortunately the food didn’t live up to the hype.

W ordered the combo plate #3. A chicken chimichanga, a chicken enchilada, and a shredded beef tostada. The portions were large and came with the stereotypical beans, rice, lettuce, and tomato pieces. Everything was good, but nothing was great.

She also ordered a strawberry margarita (the other reason we went there.) W prefers her Margaritas with sugar on the rim instead of salt. It cuts the bitterness of the alcohol. Unfortunately, she was informed that they don’t sugar the rims at Hectors. With regret, she ordered it anyway. Tragically, the margarita was exceptionally bitter, moreso than usual. It remained in the glass.

H, always the adventurous one, ordered the eggplant and roasted almond enchilada. (Admittedly, H and W both thought this was an odd combo.) It came promptly, piping-hot. The first bite was… interesting. The second bite was… unpleasant. The eggplant had been cooked down to a mushy consistency. The slivered almonds were throughout the mixture and very crunchy. In combination, they were jarring. Worse, the combination of the two with the mexican spices was almost unpalatable. H didn’t eat a third bite.

The waitress was reasonably nice about it. She offered a different entree. H ordered the chicken mole (he has a weakness for mole– but he is a little, well you know, fussy.) Again, the dish arrived promptly. Again, it wasn’t very good. H doesn’t like bitter mole sauces– and this was quite bitter. Again, no more than two bites were consumed.

This time the waitress was less than pleased, though still gracious.

It was not a good dining experience.
And worse, when we returned home, we smelled of smoke.
Blech.


Reservations for Two?

May 10, 2007

GREETINGS!

I’m H. And I’m W.
We’ve been talking about doing this blog for well over a year. It is well past time we got to it.

We don’t really think we are fussy. We prefer the term, particular.
Yes, we have standards.
We’ve reached a point in our lives where we have realized an important truth.
LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO EAT BAD FOOD OR PUT UP WITH BAD SERVICE.

We like to eat. We like to travel. We like to try new things and see new places.
Consequently, we spend a good portion of our budget on eating out.
Often, we use the internet to look at menus and read reveiws.
And after all of the research– we still find ourselves less than impressed on occassion.

If only there was a blog of food reveiws that we could trust.
Yes, one written by people like us.

Well, now there is.
We welcome you to it.
We hope our pleasant experiences lead you to culinary joys of your own.
We hope our unpleasant experiences keep you safe from culinary dissapointments.

Enjoy.
Bon Appetite.