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Monday, October 24, 2005

Strip Mall Sushi: Shogun

There's a brand new strip mall along Highway 2 just south of the grain elevators and not too long ago Shogun relocated there from the older, established strip mall in Edgewood. So far Shogun is the only tenant so the place is kind of desolate, especially on a chilly Monday night. It almost felt like we weren't in Lincoln.

Once inside the restaurant things brightened up. It's quite a bit more open than the old place and the sushi bar is right off to the left near the entrance and not tucked back in a dark recess. The loud, obnoxious Teppanyaki tables are in a back room and aren't such a distraction to people who want to enjoy a few rolls or pieces of sushi or sashimi without having to yell over applause when someone in the other room does his trained seal act and gets a round of applause from his fellow diners. Yes, it's evident the new Shogun is going to place a greater emphasis on sushi.

The sushi menu has been expanded with quite a few of the complicated everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type rolls. They've also added some of the sashimi and oil appetizers like I've had at Blue in Omaha.

There were five of us eating and between the sashimi, sushi and rolls we probably ordered too much. A few of the highlights were the Reno (salmon, cream cheese and rice wrapped in nori, tempura battered and deep-fried), Tarantula (I can't remember what was inside but it was also deep-fried and topped with flying fish roe, black sesame seeds and a surprisingly spicy sauce), and the Tsunami (oddly named because it was rather small and unassuming, just red pepper, avocado and noodles). The spicy tuna roll and its relatives were like they are in every sushi place in the world; simple, but safe. The roll we ordered but didn't get, the Volcano, sounded great but since we were stuffed we were glad it never showed up.

The sashimi is one of the better deals on the menu. The salmon sashimi was five thick pieces of good, fresh salmon and it wasn't much more expensive than the two piece order of sushi.

The only ordering mistake of the evening was my foray into their new Mexican Ceviche items. I ordered the spicy shrimp cocktail and it was nothing more than a dozen small but flavorful shrimp in a pico de gallo and spicy tomato sauce. It was more like a shrimpy bloody mary than anything else and not worth the $7.95.

Shogun has the tropical drink thing down pretty well too. The mai-tais are properly huge and full of rum and some of the smaller tropical drinks like the creamy piña colada-like Buddha are also boozy enough to justify the $5 price.

I'd heard bad things about the service since the move but the servers tonight were almost overly attentive though they didn't get to the point where they were annoying. I have a feeling this is mostly because of the slow Monday night crowd.

Shogun, like one of its more famous namesakes, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is definitely the most powerful sushi place in Lincoln.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

S & M Sandwich Shop

I'm pleased to announce the famous Jack Jackson has agreed to contribute his restaurant reviews. Here's his first effort. When going to M & N I like the meat-within-meat sandwich.


M&N Sandwich Shop

By Jack Jackson

It’s called the M&N Sandwich Shop and I know the N stands for Norm and the M stands for misanthrope. My dad once referred to it as S&M sandwich shop. The owners are the sadists, and the customers are the masochists.

My first M&N experience was many years ago, back when I foolishly thought that cleanliness and basic upkeep were essential for restaurants, so I was already a little put-off by the place. I foolishly ordered a turkey sandwich. I remember the look on Norm’s face after I ordered, as if I just told him he couldn’t smoke in his own restaurant.

My sandwich tasted like bleach and I didn’t return until a friend insisted that M&N was the best sandwich shop in town, even if they do have Fox News on all day.

“The last time I went, the sandwich tasted like bleach,” I said.

“What did you order?” he asked.

“A turkey sandwich.”

“No. You’ve got to order one of the six sandwiches he’s got the glossy color pictures of. He’s really proud of his pastrami. Get the Italian beef/pastrami combo with everything and an extra shot of au jus on the side.”

“But why does he have turkey sandwiches on the menu if he doesn’t want you to order them?”

To this, of course, there is no sensible answer, because there is no answer that could possibly make sense. There are, I would estimate, twenty sandwiches on the menu at M&N sandwich shop, but if you don’t order from the six color glossy sandwiches, you apparently run the risk of getting served up some bleach with your meal.

The pastrami, I hear, comes from a famous place in Chicago, and it’s based on a recipe from Los Angeles. With such a pedigree, I often wonder why the final touch to the Italian beef/pastrami combo is a good turn of a microwave dial.

I went back last year to try the Italian beef/pastrami sandwich, and it was excellent. It didn’t taste like bleach. The M&N au jus is the most succulent in town. My friend asks for the extra shot of au jus on the side not for dipping the sandwich (they’re usually too unwieldy to attempt anything like that), but to gulp as a shot.

The Italian beef is tender and tasty, and the pastrami is excellent, if a little difficult to eat with strands of tough fat. I still ride the fence on whose pastrami is better, M&N’s or Manhattan Deli’s, but that’s the beauty of those two places, that I don’t have to decide because both are great.

Beyond the meat and au jus, the condiments are generally good, too, and the bread is always fresh. I don’t like Swiss cheese in the first place, so I say no. If I did like Swiss cheese, I would still say no, because their Swiss cheese is of the flavorless-yet-stinky type that you can find at Subway and is probably imported from the moon. The onions are a good addition, but the sport peppers are sometimes too hot for my liking, and they can make it hurt when I poop.

Thus, I suggest ordering the Italian beef/pastrami combo with onions, no peppers, no cheese, but ask for the au jus on the side (not to gulp, but to either pour over the sandwich or you can attempt to dip cut-up pieces of the sandwich in it).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mr. Wilson goes to Crawdaddys

Crawdaddy's is one of those places you tend to forget about. It's tucked into the far southwest corner of the Haymarket under the viaduct so the typical Haymarket crowd doesn't see it and it has a fairly loyal clientele so Crawdaddy's doesn't need to advertise a whole lot. I haven't been there in over a year and now after reading Mr. Wilson's review it's at the top of my list.

I remember when it was still called George's Red Pepper Grill and was in the old Sobik's Subs place just off the viaduct on 10th street. I lived just a few blocks away at the time in the notorious Russian Bottoms and on Sundays that place had a line out the door for the 25¢ tacos. Mr. Wilson ate 17 at Knickerbocker's, which has Crawdaddy's tacos on Thurdays. I reckon I could probably top that record.

Mr. Wilson says:
The food is diverse. Crawdaddy’s serves variations on cajun, barbeque, and Mexican. My favorite entree is the Ultimate Big Ass Burrito, a honkin’ meat and beans burrito smothered in the homemade salsa of your choice and topped with jalapenos. If you’re ordering something called the Ultimate Big Ass Burrito, you’d better be asking for the mofo salsa. The Missus goes cajun with the crawfish pie, a cajun pot pie of sorts. It’s a cornbread shell filled with crawfish, tomatoes, red peppers, and all sorts of other goodies. Last night her dish was overflowing with crawfish. I ordered the crawfish etouffee last night, a first for me. It featured a tomato-based sauce filled with crawfish and colorful veggies, served around a mound of rice. It was no Big Ass Burrito, but it was pretty darn tasty.
I love crawfish so I'm tempted to get the crawfish pie the next time. When I was a kid we used to catch crawfish out of the little creeks around my hometown and take them to my friend Tim's mom for her to cook. She'd also cook the frogs we caught and it was all so damn tasty. I'm still partial to the Big Ass Burrito, though. It's way better than anything you can get at Chipotle.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Don & Millie's

Sarah woke me up before noon on Sunday and suggested we go out to lunch. I rolled over, conscious of my late morning hunger and countered with Don & Millie's and that's where we went. I hadn't been to Don & Millie's since 1991 when my mom was finishing nursing school at Bryan so I don't know what put that restaurant in my head. I drive by the place once a week on my way home from the 56th & Hwy 2 Supersaver and lately it has kind of caught my attention so maybe that was it.

Don & Millie's is a nice place - Clean, easy to get to, jumping with the Sunday after church crowd. The oldschool jukebox you see when you walk in is a bit much. Rock and Roll Runza closed. Continuing to mimic them doesn't give you any cred with the Boomers.

Ordering was easy. Like most places the most popular sandwiches are paired with fries and a drink. Sarah and I both ordered the cheeseburger and fries basket. I got my burger with bacon and Sarah upgraded hers to lettuce, tomato and mayo and further upgraded from fries to baked potato soup.

The burgers were pretty good. They were obviously handmande patties made with mostly real beef, and they tasted like it. Aside from the Patty Melt at the Parkway Pub and cheepass burger Thursday at P.O. Pear's , you probably won't find a better burger in Lincoln. My burger tasted beefy and that's all I can expect. Sarah's, with all the extra stuff, kind of fell apart like the old Hardee's $5 burger, but what can you expect with all that crap on your burger.

I was surprised by how good the fries were. I expected Runza crinkle-kut but got skinny little McDonald's looking fries. The difference is, these fries were hot and crispy. They seemed to have a bit of breading but not to the disastrous level that Burger King attempted a few years back in order to compete with McDonald's.

Sarah's baked potato soup was good but the $1 price upgrade probably wasn't worth it. It was basically creamy potato soup with bacon and cheese added. It's good for replicating at home but not worth paying a premium for when you just want to eat a good burger.

The burgers at Don & Millie's are well worth the visit. I saw a plate of nachos go by halfway through my meal and wished I'd ordered those but maybe I'll get back to that place before another 14 years go by.

Despite their offering of $.99 longnecks and margaritas I abstained from drinking beer on an early Sunday afternoon.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Don't Eat It

Maybe Applebee's isn't so bad after all. Steve, Don't Eat It! is a series of posts in which the writer samples a variety of things most of us wouldn't consider eating. The potted meat product wasn't so outrageous. If it's good enough for Karl Childers it's good enough for me especially with some biscuits and mustard on the side.

Potted meat product is like apple pie with cinnamon ice cream compared to some of the things Steve eats as you scroll down the page. I'm sure I could find Natto and Cuitlacoche here in Lincoln, but I'm not sure I want to.

Reader Review: Wilderness Ridge

Contributed by sylvia

Their menu looks great...but their execution is terrible. Keep in mind, I'm on Atkins still, so I have to know about the content of certain foods. I was looking forward to some seafood bisque, but a consult with the kitchen verified more than trace amounts (a couple of tablespoons) of cornstarch/flour in the seafood bisque. Higher quality ones just use cream as the main thickener, sometimes with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch/flour. I did have a taste of it though. The taste was not anything special. I expected a more buttery/creamy flavor, with even more taste of the sea. Looking around at the other clientele of elderly couples, there is probably a reason the taste was muted.

We ordered an appetizer. The "mushroom caps stuffed with goat cheese and chorizo" on the menu come out as "fried breaded portabello slices on a bed of lettuce"? No cheese or meat? We asked the waitress what it was and she said that the mushroom caps weren't supposed to be on the menu, and that is what they have been serving in its place. ...and it sounded like they have been doing that for quite some time. We tried to order another appetizer (forget which), but they were out of that too.

The ahi tuna steak was CONSIDERABLLY SMALLER (and of lesser quality) THAN THE ONE I HAD AT BACIAMI last year (the one at baciami was even at a lesser cost). It was supposed to be wasabi crusted. The waitress came back and warned me about how it was breaded, and I asked if they could just put some of the wasabi on the outside when they cooked it? Turns out they couldn't do that without the flour, but no one even asked if I wanted it on the side?

The vegetable was supposed to be a bean medley, but it was snap peas, a few slices of red pepper, and carrots. Where were the beans again? The jasmine rice didn't smell the least bit jasmin-y. All of the meat seemed way overpriced, but again, we didn't have any of the beef. The proscuttio-wrapped scallops were huge and tasty though! The smoky flavor of the pork extended all the way through the scallops. The creme brulee tasted very good also. They threw that in for free after the mushroom caps fiasco.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Best of Lincoln?

While Jeff Korbelik doesn't play favorites very often in his reviews he still knows good food when he tastes it. Jeff analyzed the annual KFOR Best of Lincoln rankings in the last Ground Zero and he's pretty dead-on in his re-rankings.

His steak rankings were pretty solid. I especially liked that he put Marz at number 2 because the Steak Le Bleu there is mouthwatering. The KFOR pizza and Mexican rankings were laughable. The people of Lincoln had La Paz, Carlos O'Kelly's and Tico's as the top three Mexican places which ignored all the terrific Mexican-owned restaurants in town. Jeff's re-ranking in that category was pretty solid - La Mexicana, D'Leon's and El Rancho in that order.

The KFOR pizza rankings were just as bad - Valentino's, Pizza Hut and Godfather's. While Lincoln doesn't have many decent pizza places, Yia Yia's is always the best bet. Jeff put Venue in his pizza rankings which I found interesting. Even if Venue makes great pizza, no one really goes there for pizza. I'd like to try Venue again but I had a so-so meal there last New Year's Eve and haven't really wanted to go back.

It also appears Lincolnites don't know from a decent sandwich. KFOR's list had Subway at #1 with two other bland chains behind it. Jeff had M & N, Maggie's and the Manhattan Deli. I'd probably reorder those to Manhattan Deli, M & N and Maggie's if only because the M & N's owners are a bit cranky. Plus, Manhattan Deli has the best pastrami in town. The pastrami reuben there is to die for.

What other quibbles do you have with either set of rankings? Is there a restaurant you like that's not getting enough love from Lincolnites?

Welcome

As a big foodie I'm always looking for new restaurants. Lincoln has come a long way in that regard but there's still an Applebee's on every corner. On top of that, reviews or articles on new Lincoln restaurants are tough to find. Jeff Korbelik's features on restaurants in the Journal-Star's Friday Ground Zero supplement aren't, and Jeff has admitted as much, really reviews. I understand that. A bad review in the only place to find information about restaurants in Lincoln would be unfair in that the restaurant would be dead before it had a chance to make positive changes.

The Daily Nebraskan's food critic is definitely a critic and while J.J.'s reviews are fun to read and typically give a real picture of how good or bad a restaurant is, J.J. tends to enjoy eviscerating the place just for the sake of it. Think Homer Simpson's reviews for the Springfield Shopper but with less "chewy?" and more references to old Europe and you'd be on the right track.

Here on the internets, though, I'd like to provide Lincoln Eaters with a more realistic view of what they can expect before they head out on the town. I can't afford to eat out every night or go out for lunch everyday so contributions are encouraged. Did you have a great meal at Venue? A so-so lunch at Duggan's? Did you drive down to the Black Crow in Beatrice only to have Ray tell you how great Bill Bennett is? Let me know about your experience.