Jul 232012
 

Cuisine: Italian
Restaurant Features: Bar, On-Site Parking, Hotel
Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Address: 280 Mission Blvd.  Santa Rosa, CA 95409 (707) 538-6000
Hours: Sun-Thur 11am til 9pm   * Fri-Sat 11am til 10pm
Links: Union Hotel Website * Union Hotel Restaurant On Facebook * Google Map

Atmosphere: The Dining Room at the Mission Blvd location is one big, open space.  There is a mix of booths around the perimeter of the room and tables in the center, which can be arranged to accommodate larger parties.  It is warm, inviting and casual.

There is a well-lit bar tucked back into its own area on the opposite side of the restaurant.  There are a couple of nice big TVs hanging behind the bar, in-line with the lighted shelving.

What we ordered:  One of my companions ordered the Roasted Garlic with Baked Brie, served with thick toasted sourdough.  An entire head of garlic was roasted skin-on, so that you could pop each little clove right out.

Several of us started with salad, I had the House Caesar.  The lettuce was very cold and crisp, the homemade dressing was slightly creamy and had some zip to it.

For my entree I ordered the Italian Sausage Lasagna.  It was wonderful, a true Italian comfort food.  It was a large serving, baked in a ramekin.  The noodles were layered with cheese, rich tomato sauce and Italian sausage.  It was baked until golden brown and literally bubbling over.  I was only able to eat half of this, it was very filling.

One of my companions ordered the Wild Mushroom Gnocchi, hand-made little pockets tossed in a creamy mushroom sauce with sauteed porcini and button mushrooms, swiss chard, and fresh thyme.  I did not try this but my companion loved it.

Another companion had the Linguini and Clams, served in a bowl with whole baby Manila clams cooked in a  broth of white wine, garlic and fresh tomato.

One of my companions went with Chicken Florentine; Grilled and sliced chicken breast, sautéed fresh baby spinach and red bell pepper tossed with penne pasta in a light garlic cream sauce.

Another companion ordered the Pomodoro Pasta with fresh tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, garlic and olive oil.

Service: Our party of 14 had a reservation for a late dinner on a Saturday evening, our table was waiting for us when we arrived.  There were a handful of other tables that were occupied but other than that it was pretty quiet for a Saturday night.  Our food was prepared in a reasonable amount of time for how big our party was.  Everything was prepared as requested.
Overall Impression: Delicious, Italian comfort food.

Jul 142012
 

Cuisine: Seafood
Restaurant Features: Counter Service, Food Cart, Waterfront
Location: San Francisco, CA (Fisherman’s Wharf)
Address: 2801Taylor Street San Francisco, CA 94133
Links:  Guardino’s on Facebook

Atmosphere: Located on Fisherman’s Wharf, Guardino’s will be one of the very first sidewalk food stands that you will see as you approach the wharf.  The sign proclaims that it was founded in 1918 but I was unable to find any information, as Guardino’s is lacking a website.  There isn’t much to the stand itself and there is no room for sitting unless you walk across the street where there are a just a couple of community places to sit.
Menu:  Clam Chowder (with or without bread bowl), Crab & Shrimp Sandwiches, Calamari, Crab Cocktail, Shrimp Cocktail, Crab/Shrimp Cocktail
Price guide: Chowder $4+   Crab Sandwich $7
What we ordered: My companions and I ate a couple of orders of the famous clam chowder ($4).  It was very hot which was good on a cool morning, but it really wasn’t anything special.  It was a very basic chowder with a few chunks of potato and small bites of clam in a broth that was a little more thin than most chowders.  I tend to be somewhat picky when it comes to clam or seafood chowder because I use an awesome recipe and make a really fantastic chowder if I do say so myself, and Guardino’s couldn’t compare to what I am used to.  This one resembled canned clam chowder in both taste and appearance.  It was the only clam chowder that I tried at Fisherman’s Wharf so I can’t say how it compares to any of the many others who also serve clam chowder, but I was slightly disappointed.  I wish I would have ordered it in a bread bowl because it would have been more filling and the sourdough would have helped enhance the flavor of the soup..

Service: There wasn’t much of a line when we arrived at 9am and we were quickly able to order and receive our food.
Overall Impression: Guardino’s has been a main-stay at Fisherman’s Wharf for just a few years shy of a century.  While the clam chowder tends to be a very popular dish, next time I would order one of the other seafood items from Guardino’s.  If you do get the clam chowder, I would suggest getting it served in a bread bowl.
Guardinos on Urbanspoon

Jul 082012
 

Cuisine: American, Bakery
Restaurant Features: Catering, Counter Service, Shipping, Waterfront
Location: San Francisco, CA
Address: Fisherman’s Wharf ~ 160 Jefferson Street San Francisco, CA (415) 928-1849
Links: Boudin Sourdough Bakery  Website * Boudin Sourdough on Facebook * Map

Atmosphere: Inside the location at Fisherman’s Wharf you can order prepared items from either the Cafe or the Bakery, each of which has a separate line.

There are a couple of different areas where you can order, depending on what you want: Bakery or Cafe.

Menu: Breads offered at Boudin include the Wolrd Famous Sourdough Bread, Sculpted Breads, Cinnamon Raisin Bread, Kalamata Olive, Jalapeno Cheddar, Walnut, Ciabatta, Pain Au Levaine, Corn Rye, Wheat, and Panettone.

Breakfast items include Muffins, Toast with Jam, Waffles, and Bagels.

Salads offered at Boudin include Mediterranean Salad, Thai Citrus Chicken, Caesar, Caesar with Chicken, Spring Salad, and Waldorf Salad.

Soups include the famous Clam Chowder as well as Tomato in a Breadbowl, Beef Chili, Vegetarian Chili, Chicken Pot Pie, and Butternut Squash.

Hot Sandwiches include Grilled Cheese, BLT, and Chicken Club.  Classics like California Veggie, Tuna Salad, Chicken Salad, Bavarian Ham, Turkey, Turkey Cranberry, and Roast Beef are also offered, or you can order one of the Artisan Sandwiches such as the Chicken Caesar Club, Chicken Mediterranean, Waldorf Stack, Chicken with Chipotle Aioli, Turkey Avocado, Chicken Pesto, Classic Italian, and Pesto Roast Beef.

Desserts include Cookies (chocolate, oatmeal and peanut butter), Brownies, Apple Bars, Lemon Bars, and Raspberry Bars.
Price guide: Salads $6-9  Sandwiches $7-8
What we ordered: I ordered a mini loaf of the Dutch Crunch. This was my first time at Bourdin and I basically had nothing to reference this bread to, but I really wasn’t expecting the sweetness of this one.  The “crunch” comes from the wash of rice flour, butter, sugar and yeast that is applied to the dough just before baking.

The Waffle is big and thick, topped with fresh whipped cream and berries.  The chili and clam chowder are served in a bread bowl.

Service:  There were only about 6-8 people ahead of me in the bakery line and it moved quickly.  One detail to note about the Fisherman’s Wharf location is that there is no restroom, customers must use the public bathroom outside on the wharf.
Overall Impression: Bourdin Sourdough Bakery is a must-try for bread lovers visiting the San Francisco area and a great place to stop for a sandwich, soup or salad during lunch.
Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Aug 212011
 

Cuisine: American,  Chops, Chicken, Steaks, Fish,
Location: La Grange, IL
Address: 32 South La Grange Rd  La Grange, IL 60525 (708)354-6255
Links: Al’s Char-House Website * Al’s Char House on Facebook

Atmosphere: Al’s Char House is located on the lower level of the same building that houses Casa Margarita. One step inside the restaurant and you are reminded of Texas, from the long-horn skulls mounted on the wall to the giant size of the one-page menu (nearly big enough to cover the table!)

There are a few different seating areas around the restaurant, a combo of booths and tables.  Pictured below is one of the sunken dining areas.

There is also a nice bar area.

Menu: Burgers, Steaks, Salmon, Shrimp, Catfish, Kabobs, Ribs, Chicken

What we ordered:  We started with the complimentary bread.  This was a very dark bread that was sweet and had raisins inside of it, served with a sweet whipped butter.

Our server brought us a giant bowl of salad, served family-style.

I was debating between a burger and the steak sandwich but went with the Steak Sandwich despite the hefty $15 price tag.  Once I saw the giant sandwich they brought me as well as the fact it came with salad and bread, I decided it was worth every bite.  This sandwich had an entire steak on a giant bun, topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce and mozzarella cheese.  When I say huge, that really is an understatement.  I was literally full after 1/4 of this sandwich and had to eat it with fork and knife.  The bun was toasted with garlic butter and just delicious, the steak was tender and cooked medium. Yum!

One of my companions ordered the Mushroom Swiss Burger, which was also enormous, 1 lb of beef served on a giant toasted bun.  Came with fried potato wedges.

Another companion ordered the Bleu Cheese Burger with Bacon, another colossal burger.

When you first walk into Al’s you can see a giant display case showing the various cuts of beef they offer. The size of these cuts are very impressive!

Service: Our visit to Al’s Char House was on a weekend during lunch and it was not very busy.  We had decent service but our server wasn’t always available when we needed her and we often had to wait several minutes before we saw her again.  The food took some time to be served but it was hot and prepared as expected.

Overall Impression: The size of the portions are ridiculously huge and a great value, I will definitely head back to Al’s Char House when I am in the area again.

Aug 212011
 

Cuisine: American
Restaurant Features: Games, Flat Screen TVs, On-Site Parking, Party Room
Location: Countryside, IL
Address: 9901West 55th Street, Countryside, IL 60525 (708) 354-3333
Links:  Harry’s Sports Bar Website * Harry’s Sports Bar on Facebook
Atmosphere: Harry’s is a fun, energetic sports bar that also happens to serve really good food.  There are tons of TVs hanging around the entire bar, which happens to be quite big.  There is a big party room in the back complete with comfy sofas and additional TVs.

The bar itself is located in the middle of the building with seating on all four sides.  Beyond the bar is a big dance floor.

Menu: Pizzas, Burgers, Salads, Sandwiches, Wings, Wraps

What we ordered: I was out with a group to see a UFC Fight that was showing at Harry’s.  We started with a round of Irish Car Bombs. Have you heard of these or tried these before? You get half a pint of Guinness and a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream to drop into the beer as soon as you’re ready to take the shot.  Pretty good!

We had already eaten dinner for the night, but late in the evening we started getting hungry again and ordered a platter of 20 Buffalo Wings for $10.95.  These wings were not only big they were fried crispy brown and then drenched in a spicy buffalo sauce.  Yum!

One of my companions ordered this Philly Steak Sandwich, with tender slices of grilled sirloin topped with sauteed onions, green peppers, and mozzarella cheese.  Came with a huge pile of curly fries for just $6.95.  No kidding!

Service: The people at Harry’s were very accommodating.  We had a big party and they managed to get us a decent table near a bunch of TVs.  Our server was great and drinks and food were both taken care of quickly.

Overall Impression: Great place to get a good bite to eat for very cheap prices, perfect for groups of people.  This is also a great place to go to catch any local sporting event or Pay-per-View events such as UFC ($5 at door)

Aug 212011
 

Cuisine: American, Irish
Restaurant Features: Patio, Party Room
Location: Brookfield, IL
Address: 8869 Burlington Brookfield, IL 708.485.8787
Links: Irish Times Website * Irish Times on Facebook

Atmosphere: Irish Times is a fun little pub located in the quiet suburb of Brookfield.  There are wooden tables throughout the restaurant as well as seating at the bar.  The restaurant isn’t very big but it is cozy.

The lower bar area is also a  popular place to hang out and grab a beer.


What we ordered: Many of us started with traditional Irish beers or a combo, such as this Black & Tan (Half & Half)  with Guinness and Bass Pale Ale.

I have long been a fan of Reuben sandwiches however I have become very selective when ordering them, depending on the quality of the corned beef that is used.  I prefer real corned beef brisket over processed, deli-style variety.  I noticed that Irish Times had Corned Beef and Cabbage on the menu, so I thought I would be safe ordering a Reuben but the corned beef wasn’t what I was expecting.  Everything else about the sandwich was very good…. the sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, dressing and toasted bread.  It came with a big serving of fries.

At least six people in our party ordered the Fish N Chips which was a huge hit with everyone.  Each order came with two large pieces of battered, fried cod and a heaping pile of fries.

One of my companions ordered a French Dip, which looked really good.

Service:  We had a  party of 10-12 so we were seated in a private room in the restaurant.  It was nice to have our own space but we also didn’t see our server often, therefore we often had to wait for drink and food requests.  As expected with a big group, it also took some time for our food and drinks.

Overall Impression: If you’re hungry for Fish N Chips, you can’t go wrong with Irish Times.

Aug 202011
 

Cuisine: American, Breakfast
Locations: Elmhurst, IL
Address: 671 W. North Ave., Elmhurst, IL 60126
Hours: Sun-Wed 5am-3pm  Thurs-Sat 5am-8:30pm
Links: Maple Tree Website * Maple Tree Restaurant on Facebook

Atmosphere: Like the name suggests, Maple Tree Family Restaurant is a family-friendly restaurant.  It is well-lit from the many windows and has a number of wooden tables as well as a few booths.

Menu:  A variety of Egg Dishes, Breakfast Skillets, French Toast, Waffles, Pancakes, Sandwiches, Burgers, Salads

What we ordered:  It was early afternoon at the time of our visit but we all wanted breakfast.  Lucky for us the Maple Tree Family Restaurant serves breakfast all day.  I ordered the South of the Border skillet with scrambled eggs.  Delightful! The dish started with crispy shredded hashbrowns, then sauteed green peppers, onions, and chorizo. then topped with cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs.  It also came with salsa and sour cream.  My breakfast was delicious, it had tons of flavor and was an extremely big portion.

My skillet came with the choice of toast or pancakes. I got the pancakes but I was honestly too full to have more than a bite.  That one bite was pretty good ;)

My companion ate the Irish Benny.  This dish was a combination of Corned Beef Hash topped with traditional Eggs Benedict (eggs cooked over easy then drenched in Hollandaise sauce), served with shredded hashbrowns on the side.

Service: We had great service at Maple Tree Family Restaurant.  The server was very friendly and the food was prepared fairly fast.  The server was also nice to let us know ahead of time that there were no free refills on the orange juice.
Overall Impression:  Great place to have breakfast with fast, friendly service.
Maple Tree Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Aug 192011
 

Cuisine: Breakfast, Burgers, Sandwiches
Restaurant Features: Counter Service
Location: There are several Billy Goat Taverns around the Chicago area, Find Yours Here.
Address:  (Navy Pier) 700 E. Grand Ave Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 670-8789
Links: Billy Goat Tavern Website * Billy Goat Tavern on Facebook

Atmosphere: The Navy Pier location offers counter service. A large menu board is displayed directly over the grill area, next to the counter where you order.

In addition to having outdoor seating overlooking Navy Pier, inside the restaurant there are wooden tables, as well as the Bar.

Menu: Burgers, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches

What we ordered: I ordered the Ribeye Sandwich, a thinly cut ribeye that was grilled then tossed on a big bun. I wasn’t very thrilled with it.  The steak wasn’t very tender and all the fat was still included (I usually love ribeye but I always remove all fat) and it wasn’t seasoned at all.  Sauteed onions and horseradish would have made it much better, but neither were available.  I would’ve loved fries with it, but those weren’t available either.  Only potato chips.

My companions all ate Burgers, including this Triple Burger. Each of the three patties are very, very thin like fast food burgers but it definitely tasted better than the fare at fast food chains.  It wasn’t a gourmet burger by any means but it was pretty good; fresh and made-to-order.

Service: There wasn’t a line when we visited the Billy Goat Tavern at Navy Pier, so we were able to order immediately.  Food was ready for us to pick up in about 6-7 minutes.

Overall Impression:  There was nothing fancy about Billy Goat Tavern but the prices were inexpensive and the food was prepared quickly.  Definitely a step above most fast-food joints.

Billy Goat Tavern on Urbanspoon