Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best of What We Ate in 2016

Angora sheep
It’s been fun running around the planet this year staying in interesting places, doing exciting things and eating marvelous food! This blog is concerned with the best of the best; in this case, anything with a rating of four carrots, unless otherwise labeled, from my evaluation scheme (see Reading the Reviews). The review blog is actually divided into two parts. The first is about the places we stayed and our activities (The Best of What We Did and Where We Stayed in 2016), with the second having to do with food (The Best of What We Ate in 2016). Within each blog there are also two sections: International and US.

What we ate internationally:
Four carrots
Holland America Cruise Norway to New York: From On the Sea, on the Sea, on the Beautiful Sea…and Cruise Review
The best things the kitchen presented were the soups, the fish, and the meat. Pretty much all of the poultry was used as a carrier for whatever sauce covered it; that’s not saying any
of it was bad, just that it was the sauce that was interesting. Although the breads were made on board, we never got any that was more than room temperature; at least the butter was softened so it could be spread without ripping the bread. Desserts ran the gambit from amazing to merely okay; I was not enamored with sweets that are more sugar than flavor. As I’ve posted on two blogs, we thoroughly enjoyed the burgers and dogs with their accompanying fries. In general dinner consisted of three courses, but the Gala evenings had four courses. At the first Gala I got to sample snails with cheese and garlic; I loved this dish! The second Gala presented a Tequila Poached Pear for me to try; it was excellent. The last Gala meal was a surf and turf; the steak and the lobster were done to a turn. The papaya appetizer and the salad with cucumber and cherry tomatoes were good. The desserts, angel food cake and flourless cake were very good, also.

What we ate in the US:
Four and one-half carrot
From Argyle but Not Socks
Horse Ranch
There are a few restaurants in Argyle, but I haven’t had an opportunity to give them a try. On this trip I did have lunch in Denton at Hannah’s Off the Square (111 W Mulberry St, Denton, TX 76201, 940-566-1110). And while this restaurant is billed as being in a former blacksmith shop, there is nothing rustic about this lovely venue. This time I had Avocado Tacos with a side of fresh fruit. The tacos were wonderful, the service was excellent and the setting was conducive to good conversation. This is one restaurant I’ll be happy to visit again, and again.

Citrus Bistro Seafood (5005 Colleyville Blvd, Colleyville, TX 76034, 817-281-6282) is an absolutely wonderful place! The service was marvelous – Sett was interesting,
Wind sculptures
knowledgeable, and affable. The plates of food he brought were a delight to the eye as well as to the palate.  There is an extensive wine menu, as well as the expected soft drinks. Nothing was rushed, but the service and kitchen were efficient. The food was extraordinary. I had the Crab Salad with avocado and remoulade dressing. The room temperature slices of orange and cherry tomato were just the right accent to the dressing and the accompaniment of balsamic vinegar added a touch of sweetness that enhanced the flavors of the greens. Fresh bread allowed me to sop up the tasty dressing without the embarrassment of licking the plate. Dave had a cup of lobster bisque that was absolutely yummy; Sett brought two spoons, bless him. There was a hint of nutmeg that set off the enticing aroma of lobster and the creamy texture of the soup to its finest. Dave also had the Linguine Primavera that came in a red sauce with al dente green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers and what he described as ‘other wonderful flavors’. The chicken was nicely cooked without either drying out the meat or soaking it in the sauce. We agreed that our meals were wonderful. I decided that we had to try a dessert and Sett said he’d bring us something special. He did! The Medjool Date Cake is a house specialty, with the recipe coming from the chef’s grandmother. It had a wonderful caramel sauce and was garnished with a dab of raspberry sauce along with a mound of whipped cream and a blackberry. This was an amazing dish, the exactly right finish to a fabulous meal. This is such an amazing restaurant with its great food and service. Prices for lunch are quite reasonable, particularly for the quality of food and service provided. Thankfully the restaurant is close to our house, so it will enter our ‘favorite place’ lunch rotation. We can’t wait to go back!

Although this restaurant appeared first in a 2015 blog, we’ve been going here for years and
Shasta Daisies
the quality of food never wavers. It is simply outstanding and deserves to be mentioned again this year. Sea Siam (940 Keller Pkwy Suite 230, Keller, TX 76248, 817-431-1581) is still my all-time favorite Thai restaurant in the world. We are always greeted by at least one of the family and they always know exactly what I want, Pad Thai. Dave orders something different from the menu each time and is never disappointed, although his favorite is one of the several curries. The food is always fresh and can be personalized to your taste. The coconut soup is wonderful; the salad and egg roll are tasty. And when you become addicted to the peanut sauce, it is available in Central Market as are two curry sauces! There is always plenty of food to take home for another meal.
Four carrots
The Bleu Monkey Grill (4263 Central Ave, Hot Springs, AR 71913, 501-520-4800) was a delightful happenstance. It’s located next door to the Country Inn & Suites and if it were open for breakfast it would do even more business than it does for lunch or dinner – it’s that good. We wanted something light for our dinner so two of us ordered off of the appetizer
Natural Spring
menu. The first thing to appear, after out drinks was a plate of hot, fresh bread and a bowl of garlic-pesto oil; it was excellent! Vince had Calamari from the appetizer menu. It was a huge portion of hot, tender, crispy meat with a very nice sauce. He said that it was very good! Dave’s light meal was a Grilled Chicken and Avocado Club. While it wasn’t three layers, it was a jaw-stretcher, none the less. The ingredients were of good quality and taste excellent. The accompanying waffle sweet potato fries were also good. I had Chicken Lettuce Wraps from the appetizer menu. These could have fed at least two people. The lettuce was crispy; carrots, bean sprouts and cucumber were fresh. The tasty cold noodles went especially well with the two very sauces: one sweet the other spicy. The grilled chicken was tender and juicy. We had a great waitress, Stephanie, who checked with the chef about the ingredients in our meals and gave us time to make decisions. Prices were quite reasonable. The only negative was the noise from the bar – there was a party going on. I’d go back to the Bleu Monkey in a heartbeat.
Jahna’s Restaurant (1803 Airport Rd, Hot Springs, AR 71913, 501-767-0200) doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a rather upscale Italian restaurant. And although it’s upscale, I did see people in cut-off shorts and tank tops with children in tow who were just as graciously greeted and served as people dressed much more formally. Dave and Vince started with glasses of house merlot that they said were quite good; I had an excellent Roscato. Vince couldn’t find exactly what he wanted on the menu, so asked if he could get Spaghetti with Italian Sausage; the chef was happy to prepare that for him. Vince said that the sauce was good, as was the sausage. Dave had Meat Lasagna that he liked; he would have liked more ricotta. I had Chicken Normandy that made me want to lick the plate. The flavors of apples, cider and cream mingled nicely with the chicken and the aroma was heavenly. We all shared the Tiramisu that was well prepared with just the right amount of coffee and cake. Prices for dinner were about $15 per person without wine or dessert. My only complaint was that our waiter was much too soft-spoken for the acoustics.

Seasons 52 (789 W Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA  92101, 619-702-0052) is actually a
USS Midway deck
chain, although a rather trendy one. They serve seasonal and local foods, have a full bar, and are not at all adverse to people sharing plates. We were there at an early hour so we had the full attention of the bartender who chatted with us while we looked at the menu, making recommendations about food and drink. Teri had a very nice glass of Gascon Malbec and I enjoyed a glass of Jam Jar sweet white wine. We shared a very good Lobster Flatbread and an order of Shrimp and Grits. Both were very flavorful, but the shrimp and grits had pieces of nicely browned chorizo. We enjoyed our meal and the service. The prices are rather high, but splitting items keeps the costs down and still is a satisfying amount.

I had never tasted Burmese cuisine, so Teri and I ventured out on a dark and stormy night to Mingalaba Restaurant (1213 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, CA, 94010, 650-343-3228). This restaurant has limited seating, so go at off peak times, or be willing to wait. Burmese
food can be very spicy, so err on the milder side when you start planning your order. The portions are large, so we decided to share everything; there was more than enough. We began with Paratha, a naan type of bread with curry dipping sauces; one sauce was spicy and the other was rather sweet. They would be a good counterpart to the rest of our meal. The Lap Pat Dok (Tea Leaf Salad) was excellent; the tea leaves are ground into a pesto consistency, then mixed with tomato, cabbage, dried shrimp, fired garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts and yellow split peas. The flavors and textures are delightful; the yellow peas are actually crunchy, so it’s much like having tiny croutons throughout the salad. Our main dish was the House Special Noodle. This was flat noodles mixed with coconut chicken, and lime leaves with fried noodles on top. It was spicy! But it was oh so tasty, with dark meat chicken used instead of drier breast meat. This was a delightful dinner in interesting surroundings, served by an attentive and efficient waiter. The next time I’m in San Francisco, I want to go back to this restaurant.

New Mexico
Hurricane’s Café (4330 Lomas Boulevard NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110, 505-255-4248) is a
Petroglyphs and Cynthia
funky old drive in that has some really good food. It’s on the edge of Nob Hill and reflects the old Albuquerque. Dave had a ¼ Disaster Burrito. It was filled with Carne Adobada, fried potatoes and other goodness then covered with a spicy sauce. I had some very good crispy tacos. Table service was very good as were the prices.
Rising Star Chinese Eatery (7001 San Antonio Drive NE S, Albuquerque, NM 87109, 505-821-6595) generally serves only the locals, but should be on travelers’ radar. Their prices are excellent and the food is really good. We both had a very nice hot and sour soup then Dave had pepper steak with sweet and sour chicken; I had cashew chicken with fried shrimp that was very good. The service is good, too.

The Gorge Bar and Grill (103 East Plaza, Taos, NM 87571, 575-758-8866) is in the Taos Plaza and is a really good place to rest from walking through the area and also a good place
Dust devil
to eat. We had an excellent waitress who was knowledgeable about the menu and had a great sense of humor. Dave was in search of the best green chile burger and he got a really good one here. He said the fries were good but not great. I had a green chile grilled cheese sandwich that was amazing. The half sandwich was more than enough for lunch. The cheese was melted without being drippy and the chile was tasty without being ‘take your head off’ hot. The sweet potato fries were a nice accompaniment to the spice of the sandwich. I really enjoyed my meal. Prices were what you’d expect for a tourist area.

North Carolina
Corner Kitchen (3 Boston Way, Asheville, NC 28803, (828) 274-2439) is a very nice eatery
Treed Bear
in Biltmore Village. We usually get the entire beading group together for one meal there while we’re in Black Mountain. My only real complaint about this restaurant is that it is amazingly noisy. It’s nearly impossible to hear someone across the table from you. However, the food is local and very good. This trip I had strawberries and brie with toasted homemade bread and balsamic vinaigrette reduction sauce that was delicious. My dessert was Pudding Key Lime Tart; it was surprisingly good! Linnea had a shrimp and mixed vegetables bowl that she thought was excellent. Her dessert was White Chocolate Vanilla Bread pudding that was covered with caramel sauce; she said it had amazing flavor.
My Father’s Pizza (110 Cherry Street, Black Mountain, NC 28711, (828) 669-4944) is our favorite pizza place on the planet (or at least in the US). I’ve yet to find a white pizza with garlic that is nearly as good as what they prepare. We had pizza three times in four days – it’s that good.

Bizzi’s Bistro (313 Harwood Rd #101, Bedford, TX 76021, 817-281-9500) has only been in business for about five years, but in that time it’s won Wine Spectator awards. When we
Headstone from 1875
arrived on a Tuesday for lunch, it wasn’t crowded and our waiter had time to tell us a bit about the restaurant. They have a chef, use only fresh produce, and cut their own meat. Everything (or at least the things that can be) is prepared while you wait and the food is worth the wait. The restaurant, itself, is a pretty place with interesting art and eclectic furnishings; it’s a place you’d choose for a business meeting or for a romantic, peaceful get-away. Dave selected the BLT with fried green tomatoes and melted Swiss cheese on homemade bread; he enjoyed it thoroughly. He also got the cheese, beer, and bacon soup; he said it was wonderful and after I had a taste he almost didn’t get to finish it. The smoky flavor of the cheese and the crunch of the bacon were delightful. My Shrimp Pesto Sandwich was filled with shrimp that were cooked perfectly. And as advertised by our waiter, the field greens and tomato were, indeed, fresh and flavorful. I had to give the squash soup a try, and was pleased that it arrived with bacon garnishing the top; it was just yummy! Elaine Vaught, the proprietor, took time to drop by our table to chat with us about the wine cellar and the events that they host. She’s another blogger and great fun to talk with. We had a good time at Bizzi’s and we’ll be going back to sample more of their offerings and taste some of their wines.

Best Burger Barn (5108 Conveyor Drive, Egan, TX 76031, 817-233-2068) has a Cleburne address is shown on Google, but it is incorrect. The restaurant is in what appears to be an
Indian Paintbrushes
old train stop – not a depot or a station, but a place you might bring your cattle while you wait for the train. Once inside, the décor is rustic Texas, with animal heads on the walls and second-hand tables; there’s not a speck of dust anywhere. The menu was a big surprise; there were lots of great sounding sandwiches and meals from which to choose, as well as a blackboard with the day’s specials and desserts. On our first visit, we had the catfish and were well pleased. The catfish and slaw were excellent; the fries were limp. The hushpuppies were golf ball sized with little bits of onion; Dave and Vince said they were wonderful. On our next visit, we were just as pleased with the burgers! Dave had a Santa Fe Burger with the largest onion rings I’d seen in a very long while. The burger was a third of a pound with lettuce, tomato, onion, Monterey Pepper Jack cheese, bacon and guacamole. Vince also had onion rings but with a Jalapeño Burger; this came with bacon Monterey Pepper Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and jalapeños. I had the Bleu Burger with fried okra. My burger had lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese; it was very good and enough to take half home. Both Vince and Dave said that the onion rings were wonderful, sweet/spicy and crispy. My okra was done just right – crispy and hot. The tea comes in a container just slightly smaller than a washtub and tastes like tea rather than the watered-down version served in some establishments. One of the desserts was blackberry cobbler, another favorite, so we had to give it a try. One order was plenty to share among three of us; it was hot and full of berries. Next time we go, I’m ordering the Fried Green Basket that is a mix of okra, green beans and green tomatoes, all fried. Service was very good; the waitresses have a great sense of humor and like interacting with their customers.

Tom + Chee (#137, 8901 Tehama Ridge Pkwy, Fort Worth, TX 76177, 817-847-7635) is all the things I don’t like in an eatery. The menu is on the wall, you order at the counter, you
David taking his hat
have to seat yourself, it’s loud, and it’s a chain. So why did I actively go looking for this place to introduce it to Dave? Because the food is very good. You can Build Your Own Grilled Cheese sandwich (or half sandwich) and that’s just what I did. Mine was gouda and goat cheese on wheatberry bread with sautéed mushrooms and basil pesto. The bread was buttery and toasty, the cheeses nicely melted, there were plenty of mushrooms, and the pesto was just the tang it all needed. I asked for a fork to scoop up the melted cheese and mushrooms that dripped out. The half-sandwich is plenty, but you can also get tomato soup and/or dessert. Dave had the BBQ + Bacon Crunchy Grilled Cheese. It had barbecue potato chips, bacon, and American cheese on white bread. We both got soft drinks and were able to refill them a couple of times before we left. We spent about $15. This group prepares amazingly good sandwiches. Happily, you can order online and pick up in the store – I wish it was closer to my house!

Dinner was at Mac’s on Main (909 S Main Street, #110, Grapevine, TX 76051, 817-251-
Cynthia is Arches with star
6227). Having had lunch there with a group on one occasion, we made dinner reservations but really didn’t need to do so since we ate fairly early. There were patrons in and out of the bar, but the crowds in the dining areas didn’t begin until around 7:00PM. Fresh, hot bread was delivered to our table just after the wine arrived; Dave had an unexceptional chardonnay and I had a too dry Riesling. The bread was very good, though. Dave began his meal with a small bowl of Onion Soup that he said was good but not outstanding. I had their Unlimited House Salad that was more than enough without having the bowl refilled. The crumbled blue cheese and the house dressing on the crispy lettuce were delightful. Dave had Ribeye with a Loaded Baked Potato and Sautéed Mushrooms. These were all very good, with the steak being almost as good as what he can produce on his grill. I had Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna with the seasonal vegetable, Broccoli, rather than the Quinoa Brown Rice. The tuna was wonderful and the vegetable was good. For dessert we shared a Dark and Light Chocolate Cake that was okay; the chocolate was good, but the cake, itself, was rather dry. Service was good and the prices were reasonable.

From Flotsam
Tokyo Sushi Asian Food and Bar (9160 N Tarrant Pkwy #140, North Richland Hills, TX 76182, 817-514-8888) has just opened in east Keller. The young ladies who are waiting
Fountain in the park
tables are pleasant, accommodating, and learning English. There are lots of sushi places in the area, but this one stands out. The offerings are a bit different and very good; the prices are reasonable, as well. As a free appetizer, we were served a small bowl of edamame that were very nice – crisp and cool, just right on a hot day. The lunches came with soup so we both had bowls of hot and sour soup; it was exceptional. Dave had lemon chicken that was tender and juicy. He said the spices were just right; it was even good the next day when he ate the left-overs. I had the Spring Roll that was spicy tuna with seaweed salad on top that was excellent! And it was good the next day, too. We are looking forward to going back to this little place again and again.

From Flotsam
The Bangkok on Belt Line (100 S Central Expressway #108, Richardson, TX 75080, 469-930-9755) isn’t actually where the address says it is; it does face Belt Line and is next door to a shoe store. Once I found it I was glad that I had. I have a favorite Thai food place in Keller, but this one comes in a close second. The modern décor is welcoming and the
Spider lilies
waitresses are helpful; it’s a good place to go if you want to have a conversation without shouting. The starter was a clear vegetable soup with chicken; it was a nice soup, but with too many onions. My friend, Cary, had Pad Woon Sen; that’s sautéed carrots, two kinds of onions, two types of mushrooms, celery, eggs, tofu and clear noodles in a brown sauce. She said that it was very good; she had plenty to take home. I had Pad See Ew; sautéed wide, flat noodles with broccoli, carrots, chicken, and eggs with sweet brown sauce. It was wonderful and just as good as a left-over. We both want to come back and try several different dishes that are offered on the menu.
Mena's Tex-Mex Grill (1851 N Greenville Avenue, Suite 500, Richardson, TX 75081, 972-235-6300) is a cute little place within The Shops at Eastside complex in Richardson. We went at lunch, but some other friends stopped by for dinner and had to wait more than 30 minutes for a seat. The restaurant is nestled among some apartments and next to other places to eat and to shop. Bek had a soft and a crispy taco; she really liked her meal, particularly the sides of sauce that came with it. I had the Taco Plate; the crispy tacos with fresh veggies and tasty rice were excellent and the beans were good. We both liked the fresh, crisp chips and the two types of salsas. Service was very attentive and fast; the lunch prices were excellent. We want to go back to try some of the other dishes on the menu.

Bayou Jack's Cajun Grill (200 N Oak Street, Roanoke, TX 76262, 817-490-7800) is a rather new establishment that purports to have Cajun food – and they do a good job with it.
Wheel bench
Andi and Steve had several pounds of crayfish that they said was excellent. Dave had fish and chips that he said were pretty good. The fish was well cooked, but breading didn’t stay on it particularly well. The fries, on the other hand, were excellent. I had Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi that was very good; the fish was well prepared and I could actually taste the coconut. The mixed vegetables that came with it were excellent. Service was very good and the staff were very willing to talk to us about the recipes of the dishes we’d ordered; the prices were in line for what was served.

Red fox
©2016 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.