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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Top Lincoln 5 of 2005

Sarah's top 5

1. The Oven (My favorite: then, now, forever.)
2. El Rancho (Try the guac.)
3. Pho Nguyen (Pho is the ultimate comfort food.)
4. Eighth Street Ironworks (I thought this place had a lot of potential.)
5. Yia Yia's (Get the red pesto.)

Swoof's top 5

1. The Oven: It's always worth the price and I don't eat there nearly as I much as I did 10 years ago, much to my chagrin.
2. El Rancho: A great introduction to the competitive Mexican market in Lincoln. Highly visible but tough to get to. Find a way.
3. D'Leon's: I never made it out to the West O location so I was happy they finally opened one on 27th St. They have real fish tacos just like you can get along the PCH in the OC which is good enough to garner a high rating from me.
4. Yia Yia's: They added some great beers this past year including the St. Peter's Cream Stout. The addition of the Francais - olive oil, mozzarella, bleu cheese and walnuts - to the menu was a wonderful surprise.
5. Shogun: The new location is kind of strange but the sushi menu has been expanded and compares well with some of Omaha's great sushi places.

Misty's Downtown - Lunch

I have a small list of people with whom I'm afraid to dine because they're notorious for being displeased with the service, the food or the prices no matter how inconsequential the perceived problems may seem to everyone else. They usually make their displeasure known to the staff and all the customers within a 30 foot radius. For this reason I accepted an invitation to lunch with one of these people (Mr. X) the week before Christmas with some trepidation.

Mr. X was buying lunch for myself and 6 other men in suits. We arrived at Misty's shortly after noon. It wasn't particularly busy that day. There were numerous empty tables throughout the large dining room although there was a large private party in the back room. Our orders were taken within 5 minutes of our being seated so when one o'clock rolled around and we hadn't been served yet, I started to get nervous. So did Mr. X who finally found the server and expressed his displeasure with the wait. Time is money, you know.

Our server was visibly upset because from watching it was clear she'd been hounding the kitchen for our food for quite awhile. About ten minutes later we got our food and Mr. X asked to speak to the manager. A few minutes later another server came to our table and informed Mr. X the manager was too busy to talk to him but maybe Mr. X could call later. I was sitting directly to the left of Mr. X and braced myself for an explosion which surprisingly didn't come. They ended up comping our meal which Mr. X didn't even want. He's not the kind of guy who feels placated by being given free food. He'd much rather yell at the manager.

The food was fine. I ordered what I always do when I'm at Misty's, Risky's, Brewsky's or any of the other ***y's restaurants for lunch - the patty melt and fries. I was impressed with the huge mess of babyback ribs the gentleman to my left was served, especially at the menu price.

What didn't impress me, or anyone else in my party, was the management. 14 years ago when I was managing a restaurant and later when I was managing a retail store it was drilled into me that customer service was the prime responsibility of the manager. Not finding time to address a serious service issue with a customer is, to me, inexcusable. I'll write it off to the manager having a bad day but it'll probably be awhile before I go to Misty's for lunch again.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Krem le Bistro

Jeff Korbelik's nod to Krem le Bistro as one of the top 5 of 2005 reminded me that I forgot to do a write up about my experience going there about a month ago.

I'm pretty big into atmosphere, and Krem did not disappoint; it was dark and cozy, just what a good dinner place should be.

We ordered the crab cakes as an appetizer. They were some of the best I've ever had-- crispy, tender, and flavorful. The dish came with some sort of sweet chutney and a wasabi sauce. It was an interesting taste sensation to switch between the sweet chutney and hot wasabi.

Next came the soup. I ordered the Italian Wedding soup, which was quite good. It had tons of itsy bitsy meatballs. Some of my friends ordered another kind of soup that I actually liked better, but I can't even remember what it was right now.

I was a feeling a bit short on funds at the time, so I opted for a sandwich (around $5-7) rather than an entree (around $9-13). I was intrigued by the crab salad because it came on crusty french bread, which sounded really good at the time. I was wrong. My sandwich was a huge disappointment. It was bland and drippy. That's what I get for ordering crab salad in Nebraska. One of my friends ordered the roast beef roll-up, which was pretty good, but nothing special. Another friend ordered a salmon entree that was quite good.

The dessert menu sounded really good, but we just ordered some French press coffees instead. If we had known how much they were going to give us, we would have ordered just one instead of three. They actually give you the whole French press full of very strong, very delicious coffee. It would have been the perfect accompaniment to a nice slice of cake.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Krem le Bistro. Give it a try-- just stay away from that crab salad sandwich.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I want to thank reader and commenter, Gary, for contributing this review of Fireworks. It's one of the few places in Lincoln at which I've never dined. Just the description of the Xclerator hand dryer makes me want to go there.

Had supper at Fireworks Friday night. We followed supper with a stroll around the Haymarket, listening to music and enjoying the atmosphere. Friday nights in December are a great time to stop by the Haymarket.

We started with the flatbread appetizer, served with a red pepper mayo dipping sauce. The bread, topped with garlic and parmesan cheese, is good enough to eat by itself but the red pepper mayo is awesome, so be sure to try it.

A friend ordered the Ceylon Chicken, a cinnamon-marinated chicken breast brushed with an orange-cherry bbq sauce.

The marinade/glaze was incredibly dynamic. The sweet glaze combined with the cinnamon marinade was a complex combination of tastes that worked surprisingly well together. It was a great combination that I never would have considered trying.

Served with sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes, this looks like a meal I will try next time I'm there. It looked like the chicken breast was a little small, but it may be that my view is skewed by the usually-too-large portions most restaurants serve.

I had the Rotisserie Chicken, which I absolutely love. It's more food than most people should be able to eat but I was in a particularly gluttonous mood, so I polished off the whole thing myself.

I love the seasonings they put on the chicken, which combine with the wood fired rotisserie to make this a delectable dish. My sides included a baked potato, which was good – not overcooked and not too big – and macaroni and cheese, which was also good, possibly the most ordinary dish on the menu.

The rotisserie chicken is a “whole half-chicken.” I don’t know what that means, but it’s a breast, wing, leg and thigh. Two pieces if I remember correctly. The meat was tender and well cooked not dry, not underdone. I suspect a good rotisserie chicken starts with a good piece of meat, so Fireworks’ supplier should get a nod here, too.

The service at Fireworks is much like Lazlo’s, a team approach. We had excellent service from our waiter, who took our order and checked on us from time to time. We also had a variety of people checking on our beverages and bringing us our food.

Fireworks is a great restaurant that has an excellent atmosphere. And the Xcelerator hand dryers in the restrooms are worth checking out. These things are like jet engines to dry your hands – very cool.

I have tried a variety of menu items at Fireworks over the years and rotisserie chicken is by far the best I’ve found. I hear their steaks are very good but I have only had one and it was fine but the red wine sauce was a little too strong.

Someday when I’m feeling particularly flush with cash I will try another steak. New York Strip isn’t my favorite steak, but I like the sound of Fireworks’ NY Strip with Gorgonzola Butter.

After posting this review in comments way, way back Gary sent me this addendum: "I forgot to mention that at Fireworks my friend tried their carrot jalapeno soup. Not bad, although I think pumpkin or squash may have had a more bold flavor than carrot."

True, although roasting the carrots might add bolder flavor to the soup that is enough to both complement and stand up to the jalapeño.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pho Nguyen

It'd been too long. Phô Nguyen serves the best Vietnamese noodle soup in Lincoln and I hadn't been there in two years. It's right there in the strip mall south of Imperial Palace on 27th St. and I've probably driven past it 100 times since my last visit. It took a craving for Phô, a lack of groceries at home and some laziness to get us there but it won't take that again.

There's really nothing better than a big bowl of Phô on a freezing December night. It arrives quickly, quickly enough that it still has an effect on the chill you brought in with you. I had the soup with the eye of round, flank and tendon while Sarah had the eye of round. We both shied away from the many combinations incorporating tripe. Eating tripe is too meta for me. I've tried it in both Phô and menudo and I don't think I'll ever develop a taste for it.

The warming effect of the soup was lost on me a little bit as I ordered hot Vietnamese coffee with my meal instead of the iced. Sarah ordered melon bubble tea and it was interesting to feel the contrast of taking a big sip of the soup and then following it with a slurp of the cold tea. I'd always avoided the bubble tea at these places because I find sucking big pieces of tapioca through a straw almost as unnatural as eating guts. I tried it though, just for the hot/cold effect and found I liked it. The tapioca wasn't as weird as I expected and the melon flavor of the tea was quite good; almost on par with the flavor of melon Gatorade™.

The soup, though, is the reason to go. The broth is from a secret recipe which I'm guessing uses oxtail as the base with some ginger, cardamom and other spices. It's good enough to drink. In fact, I could envision a night of drinking with friends in which each shot of ice-cold Stoli is followed by a shot of Phô broth.

One of the reasons Phô Nguyen does soup so good is they don't do a whole lot else. They have the Vietnamese sandwich, Bahn Mi, which I've seen on the Food Network and always wanted to try but wind up getting the soup because it's so good. Maybe next time.

Phô Nguyen is owned and operated by Alex Tran and his wife. I used to work with Alex at Ameritas 5 years ago and he's a great guy. He seems to know food, too, because he always found his way to my department for our monthly potlucks.