Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey - Garozzo's Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-So)

Garozzo’s Ristorante 

526 Harrison Street
Kansas City, MO 64106
Phone: (816) 221-2455
Prices: $$$$

First, let me apologize for the quality of the photos in this post. Garozzo's is so dark there was not enough light to take a photo without a flash or the external light source I normally use and I did not want to disturb our fellow diners so that I could take a decent photo ... sorry!

We have been to Garozzo's several times, but this was the first in about four years and since I started this blog. The food was always good, a bit pricey, but solid Italian food in a nice, but too dark and pretentious atmosphere. I say pretentious because the food screams "mom and pop" Italian restaurant, not upscale, fancy shmancy with servers (mostly waiters) dressed to the nines and with attitudes to match. 
This visit was no different. Good food, a room too dark to read the menu, a table too small to hold our food and drinks, and a waiter that was courteous, but all business, and a bit too eager to get rid of us and earn some extra tips. When you drop a C-note for dinner for two, you should not be rushed through your meal. We were.

I will not use the server's name, but we were quickly welcomed, being the first diners at 5:30pm on a Tuesday after attending the closing for the sale of our home and celebrating with a nice dinner out. My wife and I were talking, but the server seemed eager to take our order, interrupting our conversation to ask what we wanted to drink. I asked for water and a bottle of their house cabernet sauvignon ($24).

After bringing our drinks, again interrupting our conversation, I ordered a stuffed artichoke as an appetizer (antipasto) and for entrees my wife requested the Tortelloni Gina and I the Veal Parmigiana. I asked the server if the dinners came with salad and pasta (in my case) as I seemed to remember salad coming with the entrees the last time we were there. I was either wrong or they had changed their policies because the server told me that a salad was "an additional $4". The veal did come with a "small serving of pasta with Maggie's Sugo" I was told.

My wife and I returned to our conversation, but about five minutes later I realized that we had not ordered our salads, my mistake, so I asked my wife to get our server's attention, which she quickly did. I said, "I'm sorry, but we forgot to order salads", to which he replied, "well, I already put you dinner orders in, but I can take care of that with the kitchen". My wife ordered the Insalata Caesar ($4) and I the Insalata Santa Teresa ($4).

The cabernet was actually quite good, from a California winery they prominently feature on their wine list. The artichoke ($10), stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs, steamed, and topped with garlic butter, quickly arrived and we dug right in. My grandmother used to make similar stuffed artichokes, except she used olive oil instead of butter and added small chunks of salami, but these were very good with tasty stuffing and large tender leaves. We were not even halfway through eating our artichoke when our server arrived with our salads. As a former waiter myself, there is nothing that pisses me off more than a server who brings the next course when we have not even finished the last, but I bit my tongue because it really did not matter that much because the salads were not going to get cold while sitting on the table, which they did for another 10-15 minutes while we finished our antipasto. The table, by the way, was so small (like all of the tables for two) that the server had difficulty finding space for our premature salads.

My wife then started eating her Caesar salad, waiting for her favorite part, the heart, while I polished off the last few leaves of the artichoke. She finished her salad, which she said was "nothing special", in the interim and I, after the server cleared a few plates, then started eating mine. About halfway through my salad, which was good, with Romaine lettuce, red onion, chunks of goat cheese, Dijon vinaigrette, and topped with sliced roasted red peppers, but unremarkable, the server arrived with my wife's Tortelloni Gina. That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, so I asked our server: "Are we in a hurry?", to which he replied, "oh, I'm sorry, let me take that away". I proceeded to finish my salad.
Hovering, waiting for me to finish, when the server saw my salad plate was empty, he quickly swept the plate away and returned a few minutes later with our entrees. My wife's Tortelloni Gina ($19) was filled with chicken and prosciutto, and served in a very traditional creamy Alfredo sauce with mushrooms and peas. It was hot, very large, extremely rich, and my wife, who was born in Italy, enjoyed it very much. Bravo! The server had tried to sway me away from the Veal Parmigiano (veal parmesan to you Olive Garden lovers), recommending the Vitello Spiedini Sophia Marie ($27) instead. Because I have had every other veal dish at Garozzo's, including the veal Sophia Maria and Saltimbocca ($27), which are both excellent by the way, I wanted to try the Vitello Parmigiana ($24), my failsafe in Italian restaurants and a good indicator of the quality of an Italian-American kitchen (you will not find veal parmigiano in Italy unless the restaurant caters to Americans).
The veal was lukewarm at best, with three very small medallions topped with the house red sauce and fontina cheese, a bit odd as "parmigiana" is usually topped with mozzarella, baked or broiled, and sprinkled with parmigiana (parmesan cheese), hence the name. The sauce was very good in comparison to most stateside Italian restaurants, but the dish would have been much better had it been served hot, warm even, and with a bit more veal. The accompanying pasta was negligible and obviously came out of a bag or box. At $24 for just an entree, $30 including salad, it would have been a poor value, even if it had been served at the appropriate temperature.

I understand that it was my mistake, asking for salads five minutes after our order was taken, but our server said he would "take care of it", as he should have. There is no excuse for bringing multiple or mixed courses, particularly in an "upscale" restaurant such as Garozzo's. There is also no excuse for serving a $24 veal dish cold, no matter what the circumstances.

I like the place in general, but Garozzo's would be much better if they dropped the pretenses, brought up the lights, bought some bigger tables, and lowered the prices a tad. I also believe that customers should NEVER be rushed, especially when they are paying $50 a head and up for a meal.

CombatCritic Gives Garozzo's Ristorante 5 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For Unprofessional Service, Cold Food, Darkness, Small Tables, And Questionable Value ... More Bombs Are Better!

Five Bombs Equates To:

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Garozzo's Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Title: Kansas City, MO: Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey - Garozzo's Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-S0)

Key Words: Garozzo's, Garozzo, Italian, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Missouri, CombatCritic, Italy, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, ristorante, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = "Continue Mission"

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

El Camino Real: Real Tacos, Real Mexican Food, Real Good ... HOOAH!

El Camino Real
903 N 7th Street
Kansas City, KS 66101
Phone: (913) 342-4333
Prices: $$$$

If you want authentic Mexican food, handmade tortillas, cheap prices and fast, friendly service, El Camino Real in Kansas City, Kansas is the place for you.

I grew up in California where El Camino Real, the royal road, runs the length of the state with Spanish missions founded by Father Junipero Serra strategically placed every 50 to 100 miles. This El Camino Real provides sanctuary, very much like those 21 California missions, but in the form of excellent food rather than shelter. Unfortunately, it just happens to be about 50 miles from my home.
A small place with 15-20 tables, the little kitchen sits in open view as you walk in the door where a lady was making fresh tortillas for each order. I grabbed the last table in the place and the server quickly brought chips, salsa and small cups of pico de gallo, cilantro, and diced white onions to add to the tacos. The chips were obviously made in-house and were thick, warm, and crispy just the way I like them. I asked if they had a small or side order of guacamole so I could try it, but the server told me they only sell one size and it was $3.99. I told her "thanks, but no thanks".

The tacos are in the traditional Mexican-style, with only the meat of your choice (pastor, asada, carnitas, picadillo, pollo, pescado) piled on two hot, grilled, handmade tortillas, not the crispy American variety you get at Taco Bell and most Mexican restaurants. I had one taco al pastor ($1.99 - sliced pork with pineapple), one carne asada ($1.99 - sliced steak) taco, one picadillo ($1.99 - ground beef) taco and a chicken enchilada à la carte ($1.49). Adding diced white onion, pico de gallo, fresh cilantro and salsa to the tacos, the only thing missing was some guacamole, but they were delicious nonetheless. I would have preferred a cheese and onion enchilada, but I failed to specify, so what I got was a chicken enchilada. My least favorite variety, it was still pretty good, although not very hot, and the red (chili) enchilada sauce was dark, rich and superb.

My only gripes are that you cannot get a side order of guacamole and the fact that they used a microwave oven to heat my enchilada, resulting in inconsistent melting of the cheese (see photo above) and a lukewarm enchilada. But hey, compared to the sad excuses for what they call Mexican food in Lawrence, these flaws are minuscule. 

My bill came to a little over $7 including tax, so with tip I paid just $10 for a great lunch. A value meal at a fast food joint costs nearly that, so this filling lunch was a tremendous value. I tried to talk the owner into opening an El Camino Real in Lawrence. He seemed interested, but alas, it will not likely happen in my lifetime. Too bad.

CombatCritic Gives El Camino Real 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... Bombs Are Good!

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El Camino Real Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Camino Real

Title: El Camino Real: Real Tacos, Real Mexican Food, Real Good ... HOOAH!

Key Words: El Camino Real, el, camino, real, Mexican, taco, Kansas City, Kansas, city, 7th, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

El Camino Real


Sunday, September 6, 2015

100,000+ Visitors ... That's Our Goal!

With 2,867 blog views last month, and growing exponentially daily, we are on-track to have over 100,000+ views in the next year thanks to you!

The phenomenal growth and positive karma since my trip to meet His Holiness is a wonderful reminder of the quality, objective, unbiased products we provide, all free of charge, to our readers.

We will be expanding the CombatCritic's TravelValue eZine in the near future, adding city and country guides with tons of information, maps, and links to reviews of local restaurants, hotels, and attractions. 

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CombatCritic Gives TravelValue eZine 10 Out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: 100,000+ Visitors ... That's Our Goal!

Key Words: views, view, visitors, Blogger, blog, subscribe, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, hotel, destination, review, reviews, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Lidia's Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Prices: $$$$

We have been going to Lidia's since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.

Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like "frico" (cheese crisp - $12.50), "cozze" (mussels - $12.00), "arancini" (deep fried risotto balls - $12.00), and "pappa al pomodoro" ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup - $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.

Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not "meal size" as you will find in the United States. At Lidia's they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad - one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia's unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, all of which are quite filling.

Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their "primi" (first courses - pastas) are Lidia's "Best Value", especially their "pasta trio" which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This "all you can eat" medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different selections (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can eat instead.

The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed ... you will, however, be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia's, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by "contorni" (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their "involtini di manzo", rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.

Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the "Value List" has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a "decent" value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.

We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $25 (now $29.50). Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from the wide variety of main courses, including the "Pasta Tasting Menu", frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.

We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 

Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia's Italy - Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.

CombatCritic Gives Lidia's Italy - Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Key Words: Lidia's Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia's, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Café Italia
160 English Landing Dr
Parkville, MO 64152
Phone: (816) 584-0607
Prices: $$$$

With a shortage of non-chain Italian restaurants in the Northland, Cafe Italia in Parkville did not let us down. The atmosphere is sparse, but modern with a touch of elegance as opposed to their old location on North Oak. The menu was missing one of my favorites from the old location, vitello (veal) saltimbocca. We started with wine, Canyon Road Cabernet ($22/bottle) from the limited wine list. Prices by the glass are reasonable, from $6-$7.50/glass.

We ordered a stuffed artichoke, while tasty, and hot, was too "cheesy" and drenched in olive oil. It was a bit disappointing, but my standards are very high because I learned an excellent stuffed artichoke recipe form my grandmother who was born in the Irpino region of Italy. We both had the caesar salad which was excellent, the only problem being the very large (but delicious) croutons that had to be eaten by hand because they were too hard to cut into pieces. My wife, a native Italian, had ravioli con funghi, stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, and capocollo in a mushroom sauce. The taste was excellent, but the pasta was too "al dente" (undercooked). Being Italian, my wife is hard to please when it comes to Italian food, but she enjoyed her meal very much. I had the vitello alla parmigiana which was tasty, but a little tough for "milk-fed veal" which was advertised on the menu. The color and texture seemed more like sliced beef to me, but it was tasty and reasonably priced, veal or beef.

The size of the portions were overly generous, so we had to pass on dessert. The owners stopped by to talk and one had family from the same area of Sicily where my wife was born, so they were able to speak in Italian about their shared heritage. Overall, we had a nice meal, the service was very good, and we will return soon to see if any of the problems noted above have been taken care of.

CombatCritic Gives Cafe Italia 6 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!

Title: "Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Key Words: Cafe Italia, cafe, café, Italia, pasta, wine, Parkville, Missouri, Kansas, City, restaurant, Italian, Italy, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nein … Oops … Nine Dollars For A Glass Of Wine?

Grünauer (Austrian)
101 West 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone: 816.283.3234

Mon-Thur 11:30am – 10pm
Fri & Sat 11:30am – 11pm
Sun 11:30am – 9pm
Wunderbar 11:30am – 1am
Happy Hour 3-6pm & 10pm – Close

Prices: $$$$$

We found Grünauer quite by accident while visiting Lidia's, one of our favorites in KC and owned by Lidia Bastianich of PBS fame. Grünauer is just west of Lidia’s in the same large parking lot immediately behind Union Station.  The main dining room is large and modern with warm tones, big booths, and plenty of glass. We were well received and escorted to our table. The service excellent, a team of servers and assistants ensure things come and go efficiently with a smile.

Wine is a bit pricey, starting at $9 for a glass and bottles from $38, so you may want to stick to beer if on a budget.  The meals are large and filling, so soup, salad, or appetizer are only for those with the biggest appetites. Not knowing this, I ordered the Käse und Biersuppe ($6), a smoked gouda and beer soup that is a decadent as the name implies and a wonderful way to start a meal.

My wife ordered the Ksesptzle ($15.00), a rich, creamy spatzle dish made with swiss cheese and topped with crispy onions. The spatzle was cooked to perfection and the sauce thick and flavorful. The crispy onions were more than a garnish, adding some texture and complimentary flavor to the dish. The Ksesptzle was delicious, a large portion of cheesy goodness that satisfied my wife’s sensitive vegetarian palate. 

Having lived in Europe for six years and spending a great deal of time in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary where good schnitzel is common, I could not resist the Cordon Bleu ($22.00), a breaded pork cutlet stuffed with smoked ham and swiss cheese and pan fried to a golden brown. Nor could I resist ordering a side of their rich and decadent Jäger sauce ($4) made with its namesake Jägermeister, mushrooms, and cream to top my cordon bleu. $22 is a bit steep for pork, especially considering you have to pay $4 extra for a side, in my case mashed potatoes, but the schnitzel was tender and juicy, filled with ham and gooey cheese as advertised.  When topped with the Jäger sauce it was as good as any I have had abroad, and I have had more than a few, but by the time I added the price of the entrée to the potatoes and the sauce the total came to $30, far more than I have ever paid for any similar meal in Europe.

Grünauer’s food is excellent, the service flawless, and the environment comfortable, but the prices are a bit excessive.  However, due to the dearth of German restaurants in Kansas City, and Grünauer is as close as you are going to get to authentic German in this area, what other options do we have?  You can drive a couple hours southeast to Camdenton for a meal at Der Essen Platz where the food is just as good and the prices half of Grünauer’s, but that is not plausible.  So, had my cordon bleu meal (including sauce and side) been in the $18 to $24 range with wine starting at a reasonable $6 per glass, I would have given them 8 Bombs, but they are not and I did not … 

CombatCritic Gives Grünauer 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Grunauer on Urbanspoon

Title: Nein … Oops … Nine Dollars For A Glass Of Wine?

Key Words: Grünauer, Austrian, restaurant, Austria, German, schnitzel, spaetzel, spätzle, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Kansas City, Missouri, MO, Yelp, TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Chain Restaurant With "NOT BAD" Mexican Food

On The Border - Barry Rd.

8340 NW Roanridge Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64151
Phone: 816-759-2270
Price: $$$$$
I usually do not review chain restaurants, but I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to On The Border, a Mexican restaurant chain found many places across the country.

I decided to go because I was havin' a hankerin' for tacos that evening and recalled hearing the TV commercial about their "Endless Tacos".  I am not usually a fan of "all you can eat" restaurants and promotions because I tend to to just that ... eat all I can...AND MORE!

It was a Saturday night and the place was packed, but only had to wait ten minutes for a table.  I was greeted by Kelsie, a lovely and personable young lady who just graduated from Northwest Missouri State and is planning on becoming a registered nurse...BRAVO Kelsie!

I ordered a house margarita, the Guacamole Viva!, and Endless Tacos, but being rather busy it took ten minutes or so to get my margarita.  It was tasty enough, but a little "light" on alcohol for the price.

Kelsie arrived shortly thereafter with my Guacamole Viva! which she prepared tableside with two ripe avocados, a little salt, fresh cilantro, diced red onion (I would have used white onion), a splash of lime juice, and chopped tomato.  I am "The Guacamole King" and famous for my delicious guacamole.  A guacamole purist at heart,  I normally ditch the tomatoes (usually a filler in restaurants to make it look like you are getting more, but paying mostly for the much cheaper tomatoes), use finely chopped white onion, and added a clove of garlic or two.  Guacamole Viva! was good nonetheless, but the chips (and salsa) that came with my meal were too thin and broke half the time I dipped...very unnerving!

The Endless Tacos come with spanish rice and beans, black or refried.  You get three (your first go-around) and get to choose from three meats, ground beef, shredded chicken, or pulled pork (carnitas for you non-gringos).  You also get your choice of tortilla, corn or flour, soft or deep fried.  I chose two ground beef tacos in fried corn tortillas and one pork in a soft flour tortilla.  I also dispensed with the rice, knowing that I was not going to waste a bit of room on the cheap "filler" and go for the gusto with the tacos ... AND I DID!

The beef tacos were excellent, coming with plenty of meat, some shredded cheddar cheese, and a small amount of lettuce and tomato on the plate (for all three tacos - more tomatoes required!).  I added some refried beans, guacamole, and salsa to the beef tacos and they were excellent!  Unlike Jalisco, which I reviewed a week or so back, the taco shells remained firmly in one piece, a sign of an expert taco maker and the way I prefer them. 

The pork (carnitas) tacos were also very good.  The meat was bountiful and cooked just right, there was a little cheese (I would have liked a bit more), and the tortilla much larger than the corn and toasted just enough to remain pliable, but soft enough to contain the beans, guacamole, and salsa I added.

In all, the meal was very good and I ended-up getting seven tacos.  You should know that after the initial "three" tacos, subsequent "endless tacos" come only in pairs of two, so my second order was a replica of the first, but I only ended-up getting two beef tacos.  I had to order the other pork taco later, but when it arrived there were two, so I took home the seventh taco along with the extra guacamole fro lunch the next day.

I must say that the highlight of my meal was Kelsie. She was sweet and attentive, following up just enough and not too much to make my meal enjoyable and stress free.  Best of luck to you Kelsie in your nursing career!  If you are as good a nurse as you are a server, your patients will be in very good hands!

CombatCritic gives On The Border 6 BOMBS OUT OF 10 ... BOMBS ARE GOOD! 

Key Words: on the border, on, border, Kansas City, northland, barry, road, mexican, food, restaurant, eat, taco, enchilada, margarita, burrito, flauta, bar, combatcritic, combat, critic