Dillon, CO: A Little Sunshine Goes A Long Way … There a Are Better Options In The Area


Sunshine Cafe

250 Summit Place
Silverthorne, CO 80498
Phone: (970) 468-6663

Prices: $$$$
My son, a Dillon local, recommended this place because we always go to another popular breakfast joint in Silverthorne. They just expanded, taking the space next door, so it is large enough that you will not have much of a wait. 

Standard breakfast fare, they do not have skillets and make it a bit painful if you like biscuits and gravy with your breakfast, My recommendation is to skip the order of biscuits and gravy ($8.25, including two eggs) and get a biscuit with your breakfast and a side of sausage gravy ($1.75).

My youngest son had the Classic Eggs Benedict ($9.25) and it was just that, English muffin halves topped with poached eggs, ham and hollandaise sauce. The benedict was good, but the hash browns were the star of the show. Best hashbrowns I have had in a long time … plentiful, brown, and crispy on top and hot, moist, and tender underneath. My eldest son had an omelette with green (pork) chili, but disliking the sharing of food, I was unable to try it. He said it was “good”. Too bad they do not do skillets because these hash browns would be the star of the show and make one mean skillet.
I built my own omelette ($10.12), a 3-egger with cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses, bacon, chorizo, and sauteed onions and mushrooms. It was excellent and the hash browns were the coup de grâce. I got a biscuit and a side of sausage gravy, bringing the total to nearly $12, a bit pricey for breakfast.
Words of wisdom: Offer skillets and 1/2 orders of biscuits and gravy minus the eggs in the $3 to $3.50 range or, better yet, include a side of sausage gravy with a biscuit if desired and charge a max of 50¢ … make your customers happy rather than milking us dry for every last red cent.
Next time I am in Dillon, we will be going back to our regular joint in Silverthorne where biscuits and gravy and skillets are standard fare.
CombatCritic Gives Sunshine Cafe 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For Priciness/Lack Of “Value” And Little Menu Creativity … More Bombs Are Better!


Six Bombs Equates To:


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Title: Dillon, CO: A Little Sunshine Goes A Long Way … There a Are Better Options In The Area

Key Words: Sunshine Cafe, sunshine, cafe, breakfast, Dillon, Silverthorne, CO, Colorado, Summit, county, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: G2G = “Good To Go”
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Lawrence, Kansas: Overrated, Overpriced, and Underwhelming, A Bakery That Sells Burnt Bread?


1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe
1900 Barker Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66046
Phone: (785) 424-7609
Website: 1900barker.com
Prices: $$$$

Only bread, pastries, maybe some quiche, and coffees/teas available here, no real food, so think “European” style cafe, not the American variety where you can find a sandwich, soup, or more on the menu.
I thought the other popular bakeries in town were expensive – if you live in Lawrence, you know which two I am thinking about – until I stopped by 1900 Barker this morning.
I had heard they were a bit pricey, but that is an understatement! I paid $9 ($8.50+tax) for a loaf of (burnt) apple and raisin wheat bread, the most I have spent in my life in any of the 41 countries I have visited, including Switzerland, for a loaf of bread. Seems rather excessive to me.

It also seems as if everyone is giving 1900 Barker 5/5 Stars, jumping on the bandwagon for a new business off the beaten path. I think 5 Stars (Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, TABELog) are given out willy-nilly by far too many reviewers, but my ratings are based on “value”, hence the name of this blog: “TravelValue”, what you get in terms of quality, service and price. So based on their absurd prices alone, I cannot give them more than 4 Bombs (2 Stars), especially when I take into account that the bread was burnt, even more so on the bottom than the top.

I hope they succeed, I really do. I hate for any business to fail (with a couple of exceptions in Lawrence, but that’s another review or two), particularly when they have large sums invested in a venture (the place used to be a run down laundromat). However, after the novelty wears off, people will require more value for their dollar. So, unless they bring their prices back down to Earth and stop burning the bread, I unfortunately do not see this venture being a long-term success.


CombatCritic Gives 1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe 4 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Four Bombs Equates To:

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Overrated, Overpriced, and Underwhelming: This Bakery Sells Burnt Bread

Key Words: 1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe, 1900, Barker, bakery, cafe, bread, coffee, pastries, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, product, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: BOHICA = “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again!”

"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!
 
 
 
 
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Title: “Fair” Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

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

India Jones and the Temple of Gloom


Coffee Temple
Varkala Cliff
Varkala, Kerala, India
I had heard that this place was “the best” and being #4 of 59 restaurants in Varkala on TripAdvisor I would have thought it was a sure bet, but nothing is for sure except the grim reaper and the taxman.
 
To be fair, I made several visits at various times of the day and I have to say the service was dismal nearly every time. On at least three occasions I sat at my table for 15 minutes or more and was totally ignored (I many times purposely do not make a fuss to see how long it will actually take), having ultimately had to either get up and ask for or retrieve my own menu. On one occasion one of the servers, who I will call “India Jones” because of his long hair, unkempt beard, tattered shirts, and “local” Kerala dress (he wears a sarong as a skirt even though he is obviously a westerner), moped around, conserving energy I assume, and lumbered past me at least ten times, never asking me if I needed a menu or wanted to order. I sometimes believe that I am invisible here because employees constantly walk by without even acknowledging my existence. 
 
Chicken Salad Sandwich – 230 Rupees
The coffee and teas are good, coming in large (10 ounce) mugs, but are a tad overpriced by Indian standards.  The food looked good from what I saw others order, but is also a bit more expensive than most places. I have to admit that the only things I tried were the the toast, three large, thick pieces of brown bread with butter and jam (80 rupees/$1.30 – I had to provide my own peanut butter even though the menu claims they make a crepe with it), a large bowl of fruit muesli (100 rupees/$1.60 and not so large) which was not bad and a fair deal, and their chicken salad sandwich (230 rupees/$3.75 with cheese), a huge disappointment.  The bread, a small baguette (see photo above) with sesame seeds on top was the highlight, but what little chicken salad there was oddly enough was served warm, the chicken mostly dark meat and full of gristle, and the mayonnaise had a rather disgusting sweet taste like Miracle Whip, which I loathe. Disappointingly small and lonely on the plate with no garnish, it was one of the worst meals and values I had at any restaurant in my nearly four months in India.
 
The place has potential with its incredible view and open air feel, but the servers need to do something about their simultaneously apathetic and arrogant attitudes and start acting like customers are important.  As far as the food was concerned, I was not impressed, but the coffee and masala chai were pretty good. The only reason I am giving them 5 bombs and not 4 is because they are about the only place on the cliff that consistently opens early (6:30), so if you are an early riser like me, not always by choice, you can at least get a coffee or breakfast with a sea view no less.
 
CombatCritic Gives Coffee Temple 5 Out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
 
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Title: India Jones and the Temple of Gloom
 
Key Words: Coffee Temple, coffee, temple, Varkala, cliff, beach, Kerala, India, restaurant, cafe, food, menu, tea, sandwich, breakfast, view, sea, CombatCritic, TravelValue, TripAdvisor

Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinnamon Roll


Raasta Café
Swiss Cottage Area
Rishikesh, U.P India
Prices: $$$$$

I ate only one meal other than breakfast at the Raasta Café and it was not great. The reviews on TripAdvidsor were terrific, but the food was underwhelming. It is a nice enough place, like most restaurants in India, open-air and extremely cold in December, and the staff (mostly Nepali from what I gathered) nice enough, somewhat indifferent, and efficient.
The milk coffee (40 rupees/$.65 for a cup, 95 rupees/$1.55 for a large pot) was very weak even though I ordered it “strong”, so I bought my own Folgers instant coffee and spiked the pot each morning in order to get my caffeine fix. On most mornings I had their peanut butter toast (40 rupees/$.65), a nice brown bread with sesame seeds but barely enough peanut butter to cover the toast (sgould have bought my own peanut butter too I guess). I tried their “homemade” pastries (cinnamon roll, chocolate croissant) a couple times, but they were basted with egg and had that definite “raw” egg taste which was not appetizing, so I stuck with the toast.
My one dinner consisted of paneer mata (90 rupees/$1.60), which was supposed to be a spicy spinach dish with cheese (curd) cubes, and some garlic and butter roti (flat bread – 30 rupees/$.50 each). The paneer was obviously the spinach soup from the menu with some cheese tossed in and although not bad tasting was both unfulfilling and not filling. The roti were OK, but reminded me of whole wheat tortillas with some butter and garlic added. Neither were very good.
I found a few good restaurants in town, including nearby Nirvana Café (Indian/Continental), A Tavola con Te (Italian/pizza), and Ramana’s Garden (Organic / Vegetarian /Eclectic), so I was not too upset by Raasta’s boring food. It is the one place in the area where people seem to congregate and the Wi-Fi is reasonably fast, so it is worth a visit if staying in one of the “Swiss Cottages”.
CombatCritic Gives Raasta Café 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
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Title: Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinammon Roll
Key Words: Raasta Café, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, menu, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, Rishikesh, India, review, Raasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Bitro NIRVANA Is Trendy, Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced


Bistro Nirvana
Swiss Cottage Area Rishikesh, U.P. India

Bistro Nirvana came highly recommended by a friend I met in Dharamsala, but I only had a coffee there until the day before I left because I did not like the “vibe”. It is a very nice place with bamboo, wood tones, and a Polynesian feel, but all but one table is of the “Eastern” variety with low tops, seating mats, and a little too uncomfortable for this disabled Veteran. 

The young “Bohemian” / hippie-wannabe crowd is drawn to this place, the ones with the dreadlocks (not sure why caucasians want to waste their time or money on dreadlocks, but whatever floats your boat) and nose-in-the-phone silence, just like in Dharamsala, so that also put me off a bit. The staff is friendly, but indifferent just like everywhere else in Rishikesh in general and the Swiss Cottage complex in pariticular.
Anyway, the food was really good! I ordered the Dal Makhni (130 rupees/$2.05), black lentils slow cooked overnight with garlic, onions, butter, and crème and a garlic and butter nan (50 rupees/80 cents). The dal were superb, arriving in a good size copper pot, perfectly warm and the best $2 I have spent in a long time at a restaurant. The nan was also very good, not looking enough to get me through my dal at first, but there was more than met the eye and I was satiated … after a piece of their legendary Banoffee pie (60 rupees/$.95) of course. The pie was rich and sweet, tasty with banana cream and toffee (caramel) atop a thick, chewy biscuit (cookie) crust, being almost too rich, but I polished it off just the same.

CombatCritic Gives Bistro Nirvana 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … One Bomb Deduction For Low Tables and Too Many Dreadlocks … Bombs Are Great!
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Title: Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Café NIRVANA Is Trendy,  Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced
Key Words: Café Nirvana, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

A Slice of Tibet in An Unlikely Place – Pushkar, Rajasthan


Tibetan Kitchen
Opposite Dadudura Temple
Chotti Basti (Main Market Road – South End of Lake)
Pushkar, Rajasthan, 305022, India

Prices: $$$$$

Momos
Having spent close to two months in Dharamsala teaching English to Tibetan refugees, I came to know and love both the Tibetans and their cuisine. My wife spotted Tibetan Café while walking down the main market street next to the lake in Pushkar, so looking for a change from the usual curry, dal, and naan, we popped in.

The restaurant is on the rooftop overlooking the town (away from the lake) and is dark with colorful lamps and bamboo furniture offering some ambiance. The menu is quite eclectic as they have pizza, pasta, Indian, and Chinese, but being called Tibetan Kitchen, our choice was obvious.

It took ten minutes or so for the server to arrive even though we were one of three parties in the restaurant at the time, but I have grown much more patient in my two months in India as nothing happens very quickly here. He was very pleasant and the service excellent.

We ordered the potato and cheese momos (fried – 100 rupees/$1.60) and veggie thenthuk (95 rupees/$1.60), the prices and quality being equivalent to the numerous Tibetan restaurants in Dharamsala.  It took close to 30 minutes for our meal to arrive, but I could hear the chef chopping away in the kitchen so I knew our meal was being freshly prepared, a good sign.

Thenthuk
The momos were some of the best I have had, crispy and flavorful, coming with an onion broth for dipping as well as condiments (chili and soy sauces).  The thenthuk was excellent, brimming with noodles, cauliflower, potato, cabbage, carrots, and other fresh vegetables in a warm, savory broth with just a little more zing than their Dharamsala counterparts.

Coming in at a little over $7 for dinner for two including appetizer, drinks, and main course, I have to give Tibetan Kitchen high marks. Therefore, …
CombatCritic Gives Tibetan Café 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREEEEEEEEEAT!




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Key Words: Tibetan Café, Tibetan, café, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, restaurant, Tibet, momo, thenthuk, thupka, pizza, pasta, CombatCritic, travel, value, food,

Good Italian Food, Nice Decor, Excellent Service in Central New Dehli


Caffé Tonino
No-9, H Block
Plaza Cinema Building, Connaught Place
New Delhi, India
Prices: $$$$$

Mobile: +91-9871474753
Landline: 011-23320081

Connaught Place, a very large circle (roundabout) in central New Delhi (a series of concentric circles actually) just south of the main train station, is brimming with shops (shoes, clothes, electronics, you name it), a massive Metro station (Rajiv Chowk), street vendors, a large park, relentless hawkers, and restaurants of all varieties. The large white buildings occupy an entire city block and are labeled sequentially with letters (A-L), making businesses a little easier to find.

We spotted Caffé Tonino while strolling one evening, shopping for a Kindle for my newest family member, a Tibetan Buddhist monk named Sonam who had been my pupil in Dharamsala. The exterior looked more inviting than most and the menu was comprehensive and reasonably priced, so we entered.

The restaurant is nicely decorated in modern earthy tones and brick offset by more colorful and lively décor, giving it a clean and inviting feel. The large wood fire pizza oven sits prominently in the back with a pizzaiolo cloaked in white with his large stainless stell spatula at the ready. We were warmly greeted and seated, one of just three parties in a restaurant with 15 or so tables. We found out that they have only been open a few months and are awaiting a liquor license in order to serve wine and beer, a rarity in India.

The menu items, mostly Italian, are almost all spelled correctly, another oddity in India and a good sign, indicating that they have at least a reasonable understanding of the country and cuisine they represent. We started with the mixed vegetable antipasto, Antipasto della Tradizione con Verdure (440 rupees/$6.90), which came with grilled and/or marinated mushrooms, eggplant, onions, green peppers, and olives accompanied by two small crostini, one with a small slice of pecorino (goat) cheese. The menu claimed that it came with marinated artichokes with potatoes, sundried tomatoes, and tomato mozzarella basil, but we found none of these on the plate. The antipasto was accompanied by assorted breads, spicy diced tomatoes and an olive spread, nice additions, and was decnt, but a bit bland and a disappointment at $7.00, being nearly twice the price of an average meal in India. I also had the Bruschetta (95 rupees/$1.45), diced tomatoes on three slices of toasted garlic bread and sprinkled with fresh basil, which was very good and an excellent value.

For our primi (main courses) my wife ordered the Ravioli Ripieni di Pere e Pecorino con Salvia, Burro e Mandorle(ravioli stuffed with pear and goat cheese in a light butter, sage, and almond sauce – 380 rupees/$5.95). It was very tasty, light and savory, cooked al dente and a much better value than our more expensive vegetable appetizer.

I had the Fusilli Carbonara (also 380 rupees/$5.95), a strange pasta choice as carbonara is normally made with spaghetti or similar pasta, but while tasting good, the bacon and egg were barely noticeable. Being a vegetarian country for the most part, I asked specifically about the bacon and egg and was told that the bacon was “pork” and the eggs, chicken of course. In any event, not tasting like any carbonara I have had, it was still very good and not too heavy on the sauce as has been the case at most restaurants I have eaten pasta at in India.

In all, nice atmosphere, good food, decent prices (for Delhi), excellent service, and slightly above average value. The service was outstanding and the environment warm, clean and inviting. Their bathroom was the cleanest and best stocked we have seen in India in over two months here (Western toilet, clean, toilet paper, soap, hand towels). Hence, …







CombatCritic Gives Caffé Tonino 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!



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Key Words:Café Tonino, café, tonino, New Delhi, new, Delhi, India, Connaught Place, Connaught, Italian, restaurant, menu, review, CombatCritic, travel, value, TravelValue 

Ramana’s Garden: Good Cause, Bad Attitude, Above Average Value


Ramana’s Garden
Village Tapovan, Laxman Jhula
Rishikesh 249192, India

Having studied psychology for over 30 years, I will never completely understand the territorial nature of humans, particularly when it involves a very worthwhile charity, but I have experienced this phenomena more times than I can count, including at Ramana’s Garden in Rishikesh.

Entrance from Path

I decided to visit Ramana’s Garden after reading about the charity and café on TripAdvisor and their website, but the compound was very difficult to find. There are no maps online and the only sign I found was on a gate I spotted while on a path leading toward the Ganga (Ganges) and just happened to come across.


I asked the man behind the counter at Ramana’s if they needed any volunteers as I had about four more days in Rishikesh before heading to Delhi, but I was quickly dismissed without further inquiry. He told me that they only accept volunteers for three months or more because the children need consistency in their daily lives. I understand that the children need consistency, but when someone is kind enough to offer their time to your charity, maybe you should ask a couple questions before making them feel unneeded. I could have been CEO of a Fortune 500 company for all he knew, but he did not seem to care.

One of the Residents

In my case, being the author of two popular blogs, producer of a very successful YouTube channel (400,000+ views), a licensed professional counselor, and a retired military officer, I think I could have contributed something to their cause without being an unnecessary stress or burden on the children. I could have taught them how to make my World Famous Orecchiette with Broccoli Sauce recipe in less than an hour, but it was not meant to be.


Menu

In any case, even though I was more than a bit put off by the volunteer in question, I decided to stay for their “set menu” lunch and I am very glad I did. A tulsi (a local herbal tea-like drink), starter (soup or salad), entree, and dessert runs 400 rupees ($6.40), rather pricey by Indian standards, but a good value in this case.


The tulsi was warm, sweet, and tasty and the cup of soup of the day (a creamy kale consommé straight from the garden) flavorful and light, although rather small. Some bread, crackers, or croutons would have been a nice addition, but it was a  good start to a late lunch (they close at 4pm, so dinner was not an option) nonetheless.

Cup of Kale Soup

There were several entrées to chose from, including spinach gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, enchiladas, and momos among others, but I went with the special of the day … cannelloni. The cannelloni (2) were large and accompanied by a few greens. Unfortunately, the pasta was lukewarm, but flavorful nonetheless, particularly for a vegetarian dish (everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan). 


Canneloni


The chocolate cake, although very small, was decadent and rich, making me wish there were more to go with my coffee and milk (hot from the cow in the barnyard).


In all, coming in at $8 including a small donation, I have to say that the meal was a very good value. The terrace overlooking the Ganges River below was quiet and a pleasant place to enjoy a mid-afternoon meal while helping a good cause, even if it was for just an hour. Ramana’s probably would have garnered a 5 or 6 OUT OF 10 TravelValue rating if not for the kids they support and the natural, organic ingredients they use in their foods, so …

CombatCritic Gives Ramana’s Garden 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!




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Cake and Coffee

Café Entrance 

Organic Garden

Garden

View of Ganges from Terrace

Key Words: review, Ramana’s Garden, blog, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Ramana’s, Ramana, Garden, restaurant, café, cafe, food, menu, lunch, Rishikesh, India, travel, value, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor

One Two, Buckle My "Brew"


One Two Café
Temple Road (Across from Dalai Lama Temple)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India 
Prices: $$$$$

I have to admit that I have not ordered a full meal here because it appears that is not their forté. The first time I visited One Two Café was for a quick bite to eat and a coffee while waiting for my Buddhist philosophy class upstairs. While enjoying my caffe latte and spinach quiche (more to follow), a friend of an employee brought in a meal (that looked like thenthuk) from another restaurant. Not a good sign, particularly considering that they have thenthuk on the menu.

However, my spinach quiche was quite large for the price (100 rupees/$1.60) and very good although the crust was a bit difficult to cut through and the filling not all that rich, both likely due to a lack of egg and cheese in the recipe. Still, it was very enjoyable and savory.


I have returned for their caffe latte, made from espresso on an Italian espresso machine, which is very well done and an outstanding value at 60 rupees (95 cents) for a regular and 90 rupees ($1.50) for a doppio (large).


If you want an excellent coffee, tea, or light snack while visiting the Dalai Lama’s Temple, then One Two Cafe is an excellent choice.

CombatCritic Gives One Two Café 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: caffe, café, coffee, CombatCritic, dessert, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, food, Ganj, India, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, one, One Two Café, quiche, restaurant, tea

Excellent Latte, Mediocre Sandwich, Moderate Prices


Moonpeak Espresso (Café)
Temple Road
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India
Prices: $$$$$

I have been to Moonpeak a few times for a coffee and pastry, once for lunch, and have been relatively happy even though it is not anywhere close to being the best value in town.

They have decent, free wi-fi, an excellent latte (70 rupees/$1.15), and a modern, “Western” feel (if that is something you are after). Beside the requisite coffees, teas, lassis, and juices, their menu includes breakfast, pastries, sandwiches, and light (small portions) local lunch and dinner options.

I tried the chicken and vegetable (toasted) sandwich and was not the least impressed. The white toast with a few chunks of chicken, some veggies, and a little cheese was underwhelming and barely made a dent in my appetite. My vegetarian companion had the veg Thali which looked decent for the price, including pappadum, naan, curry, paneer, and rice.

There are better “value” options in town, but if you are transiting Temple Road coming from or going to the Dalai Lama Temple, it is definitely worth a stop if nothing more than for a good latte and to check email. 

CombatCritic Gives Moonpeak Espresso 6 Bombs Out Of 10 in Terms of “Relative Value”… MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!






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Key Words: café, coffee, coffeehouse, food, free, latte, menu, Moonpeak, pastry, sandwich, tart, tea, wi-fi, espresso, caffe, Moonpeak Espresso, moon, peak, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Temple, road, 

Woeser Bakery Lives Up To The Hype … Scrummy Pastries, Good Coffee, Excellent Service


Woeser Bakery

Jogiwara Road – Below Black Magic Restaurant- 

McLeod GanjDharamsala 176219India

Prices: $$$$$
Woeser Bakery is not easy to find as it sits down the stairs in the basement under Black Magic (restaurant, bar, and disco) on Jogiwara Road (“market” area) in McLeod Ganj and just south of the large Buddhist temple (stupa). The sign is easy to miss, so look for Black Magic on the east side of the road and the staircase down to the basement.

Small is an understatement, with just two tables and three barstools, 11 patrons and two employees can cram into the tiny space no bigger than a bedroom. The owner and pastry chef busily prepares her sweet delights as patrons come and go. There are a selection of 17 or so pastries, coffees, teas, and assorted cold drinks available in addition to a small menu of breakfast and lunch items (eggs, cereal, bread, and one sandwich).

Chocolate Crisp
I had a Chocolate Crisp (40 rupees/65 cents) and a Café Latte (70 rupees/$1.10) on my first visit. The chocolate crisp was crispy as advertised with chocolate covered corn flakes decadently shaped into a ball half the size of a billiard ball. It was rich and flavorful. The café latte was made from a French press and served in s large cup with a foamy milk topping and a swirl of chocolate. The coffee was not as strong as an espresso-based drink, but was very good and an excellent value. I even got the remaining coffee from the French press to top off my latte!

Panino
I can see why Woeser Bakery is THE top choice on TripAdvisor in McLeod Ganj and only wish that they remained open later than 7pm, had a few more savory options, AND A LITTLE HEAT on a chilly late-Autumn day.


CombatCritic Gives Woeser Bakery An Initial 9 Bombs Out Of 10 and a promise to return again … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!




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Key Words: Woeser Bakery, Woeser, bakery, pastry, pastries, cake, cookie, coffee, café, caffe, latte, tea, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value

Just Like Momo Used To Make


Momo Café
TIPA (Dharankot) Road – Just West of Main Square
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India

Prices: $$$$$


Entrance – Dalai Lama Temple (Dharamsala, India)
I have tried to eat at Momo Café since reading the great reviews on TripAdvisor, but until today I was unsuccessful. With just three tables, seating 10 people max, you must be lucky or persistent to score a meal here.
They have all of the standard Tibetan fare … momos of course (Tibetan dumplings, steamed or fried, filled with veggies, cheese, potato, meat, or a combo thereof), thupka (long noodles in a broth with assorted veggies), and my favorite thenthuk. 

Momo Café Looks Dicey, But Is A Great Find!

As I sit waiting for my vegetable thenthuk (homemade sliced noodles in a broth chock full of vegetables – 80 rupees/$1.30), I glance at the young Tibetan women at the next table enjoying theirs and it looks pretty darn good!

Twenty five minutes later and no sign of my lunch, I am wondering if I will make it to Rinpoche’s teaching at 2 pm near the Dalai Lama Temple. Just as the ladies leave, food appears from the tiny kitchen, but alas it is for the three young men at the only other table in the place. I hear chopping from behind the curtain, obviously coming from the preparation of my thenthuk. The good news … my meal will be freshly made … the bad … I will almost surely be late for the second day in a row to my Buddhist philosophy class.

Vegetable Thenthuk – 80 Rupees ($1.30)

When the thenthuk finally arrived 40 minutes after arrival, it was in-fact fresh, hot and delicious, one of the best I have had since arriving in Dharamsala. At 105 rupees ($1.70) including a liter of mineral water, it was also one of the BEST VALUES in India so far!



CombatCritic Gives Momo Café 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!



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Key Words: Momo Café, Momo, momos, café, thenthuk, thupka, tsampa, Tibetan, food, restaurant, CombatCritic, travel, value, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Dalai Lama

Stairway To Heaven … NOT!


Pink House Hotel
Jogiwara Road – Below and Across From Yongling School
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P., India
Prices: $$$$$

Balcony View – Room 204

Javid, the owner of Pink House, was very helpful and friendly, answering questions about my reservation and upcoming visit to Dharamsala. He arranged for a ride from the airport in Gogol for 700 rupees ($11.35) upon arrival, which I thought was a decent price by US standards for a 10-mile taxi ride. Considering that the taxi from my hotel in Delhi (where everything is more expensive than in Dharamsala) to the airport was just 400 rupees ($6.50 for a 13-mile journey), it turned out not to be such a great deal after all. The driver dropped me on the street and pointed to some extremely long, very steep, dangerous looking stairs in varying degrees of disrepair (note to self #1 … is this the only access point?”) and said “look for the sign”.

Second Floor Room (Corner – Room 204)
The hotel is nice enough, not swank and not a dive, with many rooms having balconies and views of the foothills and Himalayas. Javid was updating many of the rooms during my stay, making them more comfortable, but also causing noise problems and clutter while the repairs were being made. The rooms have differing views depending on which direction you are facing and which floor you are on (1st floor rooms have poor views), but all have cable TVs (old CRTs), balconies, large beds, cabinet (no closet or wardrobe), bath with western-style toilet, sink, and a shower with no enclosure (your bathroom is your shower in India), but no heating system in sight (note to self #2 … “it seems awful chilly in here”). There is also Wi-Fi throughout the hotel (note to self #3 … “I hope the Wi-Fi isn’t as slow as it was in Delhi!”), with a router on each floor, so the signal is strong everywhere … WOO-HOO!
Balcony
The first few days I had breakfast at the “rooftop café”, which is just barely that, a roof with a couple plastic tables and chairs, no roof, no cover, and no heat on cold November mornings. Still recovering from jet lag, I was up early each morning watching the gorgeous sunrises and noticed that the servers first arrived to take orders at varying hours, sometimes 7:30 am, other times well after 8:00 am (note to self #4 … “I wonder what time they start serving breakfast?”). The Tibetan bread, which became my morning staple, with locally made peanut butter (70 rupees/$1.15) was tasty and a pot of milk coffee (warm milk with varying degrees of instant coffee added) set me back another 80 rupees/$1.30, so $2.50 seemed fair enough (note to self #5) for a decent, not great breakfast.

Steps – View From Street (Top)
I quickly became exhausted by and very concerned (see note to self #1) about the hundreds of stairs from Pink House up to Jogiwara Road. Being a disabled Veteran with very bad knees and back, the stairs, which are extremely dangerous by day and treacherous by night (very little light), vary widely in height, have loose or missing rocks and bricks (many steps are crumbling), and many are constantly soaked with the water escaping from the numerous pipes crisscrossing the steps (another tripping hazard). I stumbled on several occasions due to varying heights and uneven surfaces, twisting my knee on one occasion and nearly tumbling head over heel down the steep incline on a few others. Having made a commitment to stay long-term (I was visiting for 7 weeks and received a small discount on my room), I decided to stick it out until I felt my health or life was in danger.
Pink House staff are very friendly and helpful most of the time. Rooms can be cleaned if you make the journey to floor number 4 to drop off your key in the morning and inexpensive laundry services are also available ($1.00 to $2.50 for a few shirts, pants, socks, and undies), dropping items off (again on the 4th floor) in the morning and picking them up the same evening.
Steps – View From Bottom
Being November and at an altitude of over 5,750 feet (1,750 meters), days were very comfortable when in the sun (plentiful this time of year) and a bit chilly in the shade, but nights dipped into the 30s and 40s and the rooms quickly became very cold (see note to self #2). In-fact, I had not seen a heater anywhere in India since my arrival, including restaurants, other businesses, and hotels, which may not have been an issue in Delhi, but made for some mildly uncomfortable experiences in the mountains. After a nearly two weeks of freezing my bum off in the middle of the night when I had to use the toilet (loo) and in the morning, I asked about the possibility of getting a heater in my room, but was told “you have two blankets don’t you?”. I decided to suffer a little rather than make an issue out of it because the steps were making it likely I would not be there much longer anyway.

The Wi-Fi signals were great due to the routers on each floor, but unfortunately the internet was extremely slow (note to self #3). Being an avid blogger, TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and wanting to upload reviews and photos, as well as keep in contact with my family and friends via Skype and Facetime, the Wi-Fi was woefully inadequate. Beside the numerous and frequent power outages in McLeod Ganj which resulted in no Wi-Fi (or TV), the Wi-Fi quickly became an issue due to the inordinate amount of time it took to do anything and the frustration caused by Skype and Facetime calls home where I could only hear every fifth word being said.

Again, after the first few days, I decided to move indoors to the “relative” warmth of my room for breakfast, not knowing when the servers would arrive on the roof each morning (note to self #4). I asked when breakfast was available each morning and was told 7:30 am, but I found that the staff in general do not seem to awake early because when I called at 7:30 sharp each morning I either spoke to someone who had obviously been awakened by my call (staff sleep in the reception office, which is not on the ground floor, but on the 4th floor next to the rooftop café) or someone else who barely spoke English. Most of the time, my breakfast arrived within 15 minutes and the young men delivering it were friendly and helpful. However, on a few occasions my order did not arrive after 45 minutes to an hour, causing frustration and late arrival to my 9:00 am (not including the nearly 30 minute walk UP THE HUNDREDS OF STEPS and down Jogiwara Road from McLeod Ganj) Buddhist Philosophy class at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive. I also inquired about an early breakfast during the Dalai Lama’s teachings (November 11-13 2014 – 8am – 12pm daily with arrival NLT 7:30am), but was told “the kitchen opens at 7:30am” … maybe), so I ordered my breakfast the night before and drank cold coffee and ate stale Tibetan bread for three days. After 20 years in the Air Force, I have experienced worse conditions.
I never ate anything at Pink House other than breakfast because I avoided navigating the dreaded steps except for a trip up each morning and one down each night. The menu was extensive and from what I saw the food looked pretty good, but the value is questionable based on my breakfast costs and comparable meals in town. Having paid $2.50 for a small pot of weak coffee, a piece of local bread that can be purchased for 10 rupees (16 cents) in town, and a tablespoon of peanut butter, in comparison to the wonderful $3.00 dinners I regularly ate, the food did not seem like such a great value after all.
After 3 weeks, I had enough of the treacherous stairs, painful knees, and risk to my existence on Earth, the widely varying and undependable breakfast hours (they probably got tired of me waking them up every morning at 7:30), and the very slow Wi-Fi, so I decided to find a place closer to the road, the Tibetan Library, town, and my yoga instructor … mostly the deadly stairs … finding a comparable room and view at less than half of the price (333 rupees per night or $5.35), being centrally located between destinations WITH NO STEPS!
At first glance and in terms of western standards and prices, Pink House appears to be an exceptional value at $10-$20 per night, but comparatively speaking in McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, that did not necessarily turn out to be the case. The longer I stayed in the area and the more people I spoke to, the more I realized that Pink House was one of the more expensive and isolated places in town. A Buddhist monk friend paid 2,00o rupees per month ($32.00) for his centrally located room, a basic but clean room with shared bath, and another was paying 300 rupees ($4.85) per night for a double room at a monastery just off the main market with a private bath, so $15 per night was quite expensive in this neck of the woods.
Like Jessica1100 (TripAdvisor), my 880 rupee ($14) deposit was not applied to my bill at check-out even though it was meticulously itemized down to the rupee, taking close to 20 minutes even though I told them I would be checking out that morning. I am not saying that it was done intentionally, but considering that they do not accept reservations without a deposit equaling one night’s stay, it should be a standard inclusion in the billing process.
If Pink House where in the U.S., Europe, Japan, or Korea (among other more expensive destinations), they would get 8 or 9 Bombs Out Of 10. But in terms of other local (India in general, Dharamsala in particular) establishments, on which I base my “VALUE” determinations, Pink House is very middle of the road. Therefore, if you have great knees, do not mind the cold or paying a bit extra for the convenience of eating in your room, and enjoy beautiful views, fair service, and in-house laundry services, then Pink House is a fair choice. But be warned, there are better values out there, particularly for those visiting for extended periods where significant discounts of 50% to 70% can be had over nightly lodging prices … and make sure your deposit is applied to your bill!

CombatCritic Gives Pink House Hotel 4 Bombs Out Of 10Deductions for Dangerous Stairs, Slow Internet, Varying Restaurant Hours, No Heat, and Missing Deposit … More Bombs Are Better









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Key Words: Pink House Hotel, pink, house, hotel, rooftop, café, menu, wi-fi, internet, laundry, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value, Yongling

Snow Lion Restaurant ROARS … Good Food, Excellent Value!


Snow Lion Restaurant
Jogiwara Road (Opposite Buddhist Temple – Stuba)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala 176213, India
Phone: +91-1892-221289

Prices: $$$$$

The “snow lion” is a mythical creature featured on the Tibetan flag and I had seen the Snow Lion Restaurant while walking by on the busy main market street in McLeod Ganj, but had not entered because there were normally no free tables. I sauntered in one evening after seeing that the popular table by the front window was free.


No sooner had I sat down than two young Russian girls asked if they could join me, a common practice here in Himachel Pradesh. They were mildly friendly and soon went about their conversation while lounging on the couch opposite me. Many of the tables have double cushioned seats, so many of the young bohemians with unwashed dreadlocks and tattered clothes make themselves at home while surfing the internet (not just here, but in many cafés), feet on the seats and all. The restaurant is clean and comfortable with semi-bright lighting and the staff is very friendly and inviting.

The food is strictly vegetarian and the menu offers a wide variety of appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts. Momos are a Tibetan specialty, a savory pastry filled with vegetables, potato, cheese, meat or a combination thereof and served either steamed or fried. I tried the fried potato and cheese momos (80 rupees – $1.30), consisting of eight large pieces with soy and chili sauces available for dipping. Fresh and flavorful, Snow Lion’s momos are very good and an excellent value.

I had seen “sizzlers” on several menus around town, so I decided to try the vegetable sizzler as an entree, adding some crispy-spicy potatoes and the lemon-ginger-honey tea (40 rupees – 65 cents) I have come to love. The potatoes arrived first, very thin French fries with a tasty seasoning and some VERY HOT slices of red and green chili intermixed. I decided to save most of them to accompany my entrée. The sizzler, aptly named because it is served on an iron skillet, much like fajitas would be served at a Mexican restaurant stateside, sizzling and steaming. The assorted vegetables, including

green beans, carrots, tomatoes, onion, cauliflower, and squash (I think) sat upon large cabbage leaves and was tasty although not well seasoned. I added some chili sauce, a condiment used like catsup here, and tossed the rest of my spicy French fries in for good measure. I have to say that for an all vegetable meal, I was quite full, but not so full that I could not resist the wonderful dessert options.


I asked if they had vanilla ice cream because the “eggless” apple pie looked scrumpdidiliumptious. They did, so I ordered a hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie was lukewarm, not hot, but it was very good as was the ice cream. The crust was crisp and delicious and the filling sweet, but not overly so. A nice finish to a very good, well-priced meal.


The WiFi is moderatley fast, the environment comfortable and inviting, and the service efficient and very friendly, and I understand that they open fairly early, by Indian standards, for breakfast. The only drawback is that the loo (toilet) is upstairs and is NOT the “western” variety, so be prepared to squat and bring your own TP as it is rarely found in public toilets, including this one. Snow Lion also offers rooms above the restaurant, so if and when I have a look, I will update this review.

CombatCritic Gives Snow Lion Restaurant 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!




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Key Words: Snow Lion Restaurant, snow, lion, restaurant, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharamsala, India, cafe, coffee, free wifi, wifi, Tibetan, momo, menu, travel, value

Himalayan Café and Restaurant: Fast (Free) Internet, Nice View, Tasty Food, Excellent Prices


Himalayan Café and Restaurant
Bhagsu Road (100 meters east of Main Square)
McLeod Ganj, India

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea, Tibetan, Chinese (Italian and Thai Available High Season)

Prices: $$$$$

Terrace and View of McLeod Ganj

I literally stumbled upon the Himalayan Cafe and Restaurant (the streets here are rough, rough, rough) while walking on Bhagsu Road, heading from the main square in McLeod Ganj toward Bhagsu Village (heading east). I might have missed it had I not seen the sign advertising “High Speed Internet”, so I walked up the steel staircase to the terrace (right).


Terrace
The covered terrace at the top of the stairs has several tables with a few overlooking the valley below and all have a nice view of the Himalayan foothills. The indoor café below has just a few tables, but is warm and inviting with a few western-style tables and one large table with Asian-style seating (pads).

Chicken Thenthuk and Tibetan Butter Tea
The menu (see photos below) is varied and the prices reasonable. They have breakfast, Tibetan and Chinese dishes year round with Italian and Thai selections during the high season. I had Tibetan butter tea (40 rupee – 65 cents) and the chicken thenthuk (100 rupee – $1.60), a Tibetan dish of handmade noodles (long, wide, and thin, then cut into small pieces) in broth with a variety of fresh vegetables. The butter tea actually has butter in it and is slightly salty, creamy, and rich, an unusual taste that works quite well actually. The chicken thenthuk was warm, delicious, and filling, chock full of veggies and noodles, and just what I needed on a cool Fall day.

Lamb Thukpa
My friend had the mutton (lamb) thukpa, a large bowl of broth with assorted vegetables, and long noodles (that look like spaghetti), topped with fine slices of crispy lamb. Chili sauce is a condiment here and can be added to any dish, making it hot and spicy, but all the dishes I have tried are well seasoned and excellent with or without any additions.

Indoor Café

Easy to miss if you are not looking closely, Himalayan Café and Restaurant is a quiet respite from the hectic pace on the street below, offering free, fast wi-fi and a chance to unwind over a cup of coffee or tea, a light snack, or a full meal. The service is efficient, but even though their English is good, I did not feel quite as welcome as in other local restaurants.

CombatCritic Gives Himalayan Café and Restaurant 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!




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Key Words: Bhagsu Road, breakfast, café, Chinese, Dharamsala, food, Ganj, Himalayan, Himalayan Café and Restaurant, India, internet, Italian, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, restaurant, Thai, tibetan, view, travel, value


Four Seasons Cafe (McLeod Ganj, India): little place … BIG VALUE!


Four Seasons Cafe 
Jogiwara Road
McLeod Ganj, India

Cuisine: Tibetan, Italian

Price: $$$$$

I was actually walking to another restaurant I found on TripAdvisor when I came across Four Seasons Cafe. It is a small, unassuming place on Jogiwara Road on the opposite end of the market from the main square (closer to the Dalai Lama Temple). There are only about seven tables and the walls and floors are wood, giving the dining area a rich, warm, inviting feel. I quickly looked them up on my TripAdvisor App and saw they were ranked number 12 out of 43 with 4 1/2 stars, so I went in.


Momos in Soup

The menu has many options including Tibetan and Italian, and the prices are very, very reasonable. I ordered a Tibetan herbal tea (30 rupee – 50 cents) and the vegetable and cheese momos in soup (80 rupee – $1.30), a large bowl of broth with sliced cabbage and carrot topped with six large momos (a Tibetan dumpling filled with cheese and veggies). It was delicious and filling! I was pretty hungry, so I also ordered an egg fried rice (also 80 rupee). It was not as massive as a similar dish back stateside, but was more than enough for me and also extremely good.


Fried Rice
My tab came to a whopping 190 rupee ($3.10) for an excellent, filling meal in a comfortable and friendly environment. The staff speak decent English and are efficient, warm, and spontaneous, making me feel most welcome.

On my next visit, I tried the pasta, ordering the penne “Quatro Fromaggi” (formaggio in Italian – 170 Rupees/$2.75) and garlic bread (40 Rupees – 65 cents). The pasta was perfectly “al dente” and the sauce cheesy and gooey. It was good enough, but lacking an “Italian” flavor, needing some oregano, parsley, or basil and definitely more parmigiano (parmesan for Americans) due to the noticeable absence of salt. I ended up adding salt and freshly cracked pepper to give the dish some added flavor. The garlic bread was perfectly toasted, crispy, and well seasoned.

Chicken Soutsemen

Having become somewhat of a regular, my next adventure was Chicken Soutsemen (120 Rupees – $1.95), crispy, pan fried noodles covered in a gravy-like sauce chock full of vegetables and small chunks of chicken. It was savory, tasty, and very filling.

CombatCritic Gives Four Seasons Cafe 9 Out of 10 Bombs (Based on VALUE) … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!




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Key Words: Four Seasons Cafe, four, seasons, cafe, season, restaurant, tibetan, Italian, pasta, mom, momos, food, menu, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharmsala, Dharamsala, India, CombatCritic, travel, value

Decade: Neighborhood (Coffee) Bar Comes To Old East Lawrence


My Yelp Elite comrade (and neighbor as I recently found out), Scott T, offered to treat me at Decade, a new café walking distance from our homes in Old East Lawrence.

The building is apparently an old warehouse that has been converted into a modern cafe with a real espresso machine, excellent coffee, and an artistic flair signified by the delicate tree design made in the coffee crema and latte (that’s milk for you Americans). 

They offer pastries, but Tuesday is apparently not a day that the pasty chef works as they were out of everything except a few scones and the Bumble Bees … Sesame goodness in a ball! I am not sure how much they are as I did not pay, but two lattes and four bumble bees came to around $14. I figure at $3 per latte, a bit pricey for a small ceramic cupful, the bumble bees must be close to $2 each, again a bit steep for something so small. Reminding me a bit of baklava, they are mostly sesame seeds and honey held together with what I assume is flour and very tasty although a bit sweet for my taste. One would have probably sufficed.

The coffee was rich, apparently roasted locally, and delicious. Enough said.

The service friendly and attentive, we were made to feel right at home. The interior is a little too modern for my taste, but the rich (maple?) wood floors, recently refurbished, provide a warm glow and make the space comfortable although sparse in decor and furnishings. If you are looking for free wi-fi, go the the Java Break or similar establishment as Decade has none. In this day and age, being in a college town in particular, I am not sure that was a sound business decision, but time will tell.

CombatCritic Gives Decade (an initial) 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD! 


Decade on Urbanspoon

Key Words:  Decade, Cafe, coffee, bar, pastry, pastries, Deleware, street, Lawrence, KS, kansas, menu, CombatCritic, travel, value, travel value

CombatCritic Is Neither Laughing Nor Amused After A Visit ToThe "Mirth" Café


Mirth Cafe
947 New Hampshire Street
Lawrence, KS 
Living just 3 blocks from the Mirth Cafe, yet never realized it was there! The windows are dark in this ground floor space of what looks like an office building and their sign is barely visible through the tinted windows. Once inside, a modern decor of wood, tile, and dark steel has none of the hominess I enjoy in a good breakfast spot (e.g. The Roost).
Mirth’s “Big” Breakfast
We were quickly met at the door and seated, but it took 10 minutes for our server, Brittney, to arrive. A young man dropped off some water, but was off before I had a chance to ask for some much needed coffee. Once Brittney arrived, we found out that it was a “self-service” coffee bar, so we wasted 10 minutes for nothing. I scurried to the bar only to find a dirty mug on my first attempt. There was neither half-and-half in the creamer nor coffee descriptions (dark roast, etc.) on the 5-6 available carafe options, only “Columbian” or “Ramona’s”, whatever that is, “DeCaf” … blah, blah, blah. Splenda was available only in shaker form and I had difficulty locating it because packets were provided for all other sweeteners (sugar, SugarInTheRaw, Sweet&Low). Brittney appeared a bit dismayed by my request to show me where the Splenda was and even more miffed when I asked her to please fill the half-and-half carafe so I could enjoy my mystery coffee. There was no Stevia, a disappointment as I avoid sugar and recently stopped using artificial sweeteners.
The coffee was good and warm, but the coffee bar was splotched with spilled coffee, sugar wrapper ends, and sweetener granules. To my dismay, the first upside-down mug I chose from the batch sitting on counter was filthy, containing adhering coffee granules from the previous customer. I was fortunate that I noticed them just as I started to pour my coffee as I normally assume that the dinnerware in restaurants are clean, a bold assumption I know.
I had Mirth’s Big Breakfast ($8.25) with a side of country gravy ($1.75) for a total of $10, a bit pricey for not-so-big breakfast in my opinion. The “BIG” breakfast was not as big as advertised. The two “over-medium” eggs I ordered looked “large” at best, not “extra large”, and were closer to over-easy than what I ordered. The bacon was crisp, yet chewy just like I like it, but it was lukewarm and came in a clump of two or three pieces as it was difficult to tell how many ends I saw on the intertwined pieces which had obviously been sitting in a pan waiting to be dispensed to a plate. Which brings me to the potatoes. They were “home-style”, which apparently means burnt, cold chunks with little if any seasoning. The accompanying biscuit was very small and the gravy minimal for the price ($1.75), coming in a “side” size cup, maybe 3 ounces at best, and barely covering the two small biscuit halves. It was “OK, but nothing special and not nearly as tasty or abundant as The Roost’s and there was no sign, either visible or tastable, of either bacon or sausage.
My wife had the Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy, which had much more flavor than the sausage variety and chunks of something … possibly the sausage missing from my gravy! It was much spicier than mine and I would have actually preferred it to the non-vegetarian version, a sad statement from a longtime carnivore. $5.25 seems a little high for two small biscuits and a bit of gravy, but it beats paying ten bucks for a mediocre egg dish.
Brittney was very nice for the most part and very attentive after she finally arrived, so no gripes there. We were mildly disappointed by the experience and Mirth Café will likely not become a household staple, unfortunate in that it is the closest café to our home. The décor and service was somewhat cold and impersonal, leaving me unimpressed overall.
CombatCritic Gives Mirth Café 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!




Mirth Cafe on Urbanspoon



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Key Words: Mirth Café, mirth, café, cafe, Mirth Cafe, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts Street, Massachusetts, street, yelp, tripavisor, urbanspoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, breakfast, lunch, eggs, bacon

The Basil Leaf Cafe … Still LEAFs Me Unimpressed


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

When I was told by a Lawrence Bohemian acquaintance of mine that “the Basil Leaf Cafe has the best Italian food in Lawrence”, I was intrigued because we have yet to find a great restaurant of ANY kind since moving here in August. Paisano’s (reviewed in August 2013) is “OK”, but nothing to write home about, so our quest to add a new Italian restaurant to our arsenal continues.


Enter … The Basil Leaf Cafe. Yelp reviews are mostly positive with people raving about the food, but slamming the “gas station” decor of the previous location (it really was in a gas station). The new building sits in a row of shops on 9th Street not far from downtown and the University of Kansas campus. The decor is modern with a smattering of tables (about 8) in a room that could easily handle 12 or more. The arrangement of tables, bar, kitchen window and cash register is inefficient, appearing as though there really was not a plan in the first place.

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

On our first visit, we sat at a table uncomfortably close to the front door and were quickly greeted and given menus. I ordered a glass of the house wine, a “primativo” that was aptly named being primitive and obviously cheap. At $6.00 a glass, I would not be surprised if the mark-up was in the 600% to 700% range. The glass was small and filled a little more than halfway, leaving four, maybe five, ounces …


I ordered the New England (the white variety) clam chowder, the tortellini cordon bleu, and a side of meatballs. After asking for water three times, my wife finally received hers, but I had to ask yet again to get mine, coming in a mason jar for some odd reason. This restaurant is apparently trying to find an identity with its’ eclectic menu, modern decor, and new location, but they obviously have not figured it out yet. The soup finally arrived just seconds before our

Having lived in Italy for three years and traveling there extensively over the years, I found that Italians would NEVER think of eating meat and pasta together. Basil Leaf’s menu is not even close to authentic Italian. Meat loaf? Yes, Italians actually eat meat loaf, calling it “polpetone”, literally “big meatball” (meatballs are called polpette in Italy). They eat meatballs too, but NEVER WITH SPAGHETTI!  Spaghetti and other pasta dishes are called “primo piatto” or “first plate” and are also referred to as “primi” for short. Meat dishes fall into the “secondo piatto” or “second plate”, aka “secondi” and are not brought to the table until the antipasto (appetizer) and primo have been consumed.

Anyway, the New England clam chowder came in the smallest soup cup I had ever seen and was filled a little more than halfway. I asked the server if I could get some bread with my soup, but she said “the bread sticks come with your entree”. Translation: “No, you cannot”. Fortunately, the entrees arrived just seconds after I got my soup, so it did not take long to consume it and prepare for my oversize entree.

I had heard good things about Basil Leaf’s tortellini cordon bleu on Yelp, so I had to try it. The presentation was well done, being served in an oversize bowl (see photo). I love veal and schnitzel (pork cutlet) cordon bleu and this dish actually came close in terms of taste. Nontraditionally covered with a chicken cutlet (something you would never see in a classic Italian restaurant), the dish reminds me of a carbonara with ham and cheese added. It was delicious, but would have been better had it been served fresh from the pan and hot (warm). I finished half of the pasta, the lone bread stick (cut loose folks), and one of the three meatballs, leaving me a hearty dinner for the following night. The meatballs were excellent, having the correct consistency and seasoning and obviously homemade. Kudos to the chef!

Mac and Cheese

My wife ordered the “mac and cheese”, another heaping helping of handmade pasta reminiscent of my Aunt Gina’s chicatielli from Ariano, Irpino (Italy). The sauce was creamy and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. Being a native Italian born in Sicily, her palate is well honed when it comes to pasta, an Italian staple. She liked the mac and cheese even though there is no such recipe in her homeland.


Basil Leaf Cafe left us unimpressed on our first visit. Maybe it was because of the hype, maybe a bad night, so we decided to return.

On our second visit, seven months later, we skipped the appetizers, soup, and salad as they are overpriced and unnecessary based on the size of the entrees. A Thursday night, we were surprised to see only one free table and were quickly seated although the hostess seemed confused after I asked for a table for two as my wife had not yet entered the building. Before she had the menus, my wife had arrived and we were seated.

Our server was very nice, but a bit pushy when it came time to order as she seemed in a hurry to get things rolling and ensure our tab was of sufficient size. When we were finally ready to order, I decided on the Penne Abruzzi and my wife, not a pioneer by any stretch, went with the Mac and Cheese … again.

The Penne Abruzzi has penne, obviously, with onion, bell peppers, sun dried tomato, and bacon in a three cheese sauce. I have no idea which three cheeses they use in the sauce, but it was tasty enough although a bit too salty for my taste, possibly a result of the sun dried tomatoes as they are normally sprinkled with salt prior to being dried. There was too much sauce for the amount of pasta, giving it the consistency of a thick soup, appropriate for pasta fagioli, but not a standard pasta dish where a light coating would suffice. The bacon added just enough flavor to the dish and the three large meatballs sitting atop the penne, something you WOULD NEVER SEE in Italy, were decent.

I asked a server if I could have a menu as we left, but was told “we only have them available online”. That was fine with me as I am not interested in killing trees, but when I went “online” to check the menu to complete this review, I had great difficulty finding a current menu and never did find a website. How a business can succeed without a website these days is beyond me, but Basil Leaf apparently believes they only need a Facebook page. I never did find a current menu after an exhaustive search (MenuPix had a menu with prices several dollars less than we paid) and the Facebook menu never did load. That is what you get when you trust your “free” business webpage to Mark Zuckerberg!

The pasta dishes, “starters”, and salads are overpriced ($9 for a house salad? – up from $8 last October) as was the wine ($7 for 4 ounces of cheap wine – up from $6). The decor still needs some warming up, and the tables could be rearranged to seat more customers or create a much needed waiting area (waiting customers now hover over tables of seated customers). The service was sketchy on our first visit and a bit too intense this time. The menu and food remain underwhelming. I spotted only two or three dishes on the limited menu that I would bother ordering, so our options for return visits are already limited. 

There are enough “classic” Italian pasta sauce recipes to fill the menu twice over (carbonara, amatriciana, ragu, bolagnese, boscaiola, marinara, alfredo to name a few) and some classic meat dishes (veal marsala or saltimbocca) would be nice, so embrace something … anything … and create an identity of your own in your decor, servers, and menu fit for a town that still does not have an Italian restaurant worthy of our custom.


CombatCritic Gives Basil Leaf Cafe 6 out of 10 Bombs (Previously 5 Bombs) … Bombs are Good!


The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon








Review Updated May 12th, 2014

Key Words: Basil Leaf Cafe, basil, leaf, cafe, Italian, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, pasta, soup, salad, wine, vino, meatball, marinara, penne, spaghetti, macaroni, cheese, CombatCritic, 66044

Copyright 2011-2014 – CombatCritic and 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved

Vietnam Cafe … Serious, Affordable, Quality Vietnamese Cuisine in KC


Vietnam Cafe
522 Campbell Street
Kansas City, MO 
(816) 472-4888
Price: $$$$$

Vietnam Cafe is hands-down the BEST VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT IN KANSAS CITY! A small, clean, unassuming diner-type building in the old Little Italy section near River Market, they have great, authentic Vietnamese food at very reasonable prices.


We started with the Vietnamese egg rolls (4 – $5, you have to ask for them specifically) which are only different from regular egg rolls in that you get lettuce leaves to wrap them in and cilantro, mint leaves (if available), and sliced carrots to add inside the lettuce as well as a spicy rice vinegar dipping sauce … YUM!

I had the beef curry and my wife had the vegetarian pho. Both were excellent although the curry was not of the variety of Vietnamese curry that I am used to (a thick red curry with mostly beef). The pho, my wife’s favorite, was chock full of veggies and as tasty as we have had.

The staff are very friendly and helpful and the restaurant is extremely clean. It is not a huge place, but we had no difficulty getting a table. The neighborhood looks a bit dodgy, but we have never had any problems either at Vietnam Cafe or Garrozo’s which is not far away.

CombatCritic Gives Vietnam Cafe 8 Out Of 10 Bombs for good food and service at a GREAT VALUE … BOMBS ARE GOOD!



Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon



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Key Words: Vietnam Cafe, Vietnam, cafe, Vietnamese, pho, curry, noodles, egg roll, egg, roll, Kansas City, Missouri, MO, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor

Eat At Joe’s


I haven’t been to Joe’s for years, but some of my fondest memories are of French dip sandwiches and French fries … I LOVE FRENCH FOOD … with my family and friends during regular visits to Santa Barbara from LA.

Joe’s has been in the same location on State Street since 1928 and, although redecorated, retains the bones and charm of a 1920’s California diner, counter (now bar) and all.

Looking at the recent photos, the French dips have not changed with chunks of prime rib piled high on a French roll (did I tell you I LOVE FRENCH FOOD?) accompanied by crispy French fries, au jus, and a side salad. I can taste the sandwich even though I am 1,500 miles away … YUM!

I have been to 39 countries since the first time I went to Joe’s, INCLUDING FRANCE SEVERAL TIMES, and enjoyed some of the best cuisine the World has to offer, but sometimes it is the simple things in life that stand out as the finest moments. I have never eaten anything EXCEPT the FRENCH DIP at Joe’s Cafe and even though I will likely return several more tines before I die, I will go with a smile on my face, having eaten nothing else at this Santa Barbara institution. GO TO JOE’S … have a French dip and tell them CombatCritic sent you!

CombatCritic Gives Joe’s Cafe 10 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD! 

Mountain Lyon Cafe … Best Breakfast in Summit County!


Piercing deep blue eyes the color of Arizona turquoise, a warm inviting smile on a winter’s day, Brook, a native of St Louis, Missouri said “welcome to the Mountain Lyon, I’ll be your server” within seconds of our sitting down in the booth by the front window. Serving only breakfast and lunch, the Mountain Lyon Café is a “locals” hang-out with stick-to-your-ribs, home cooked meals, and efficient, friendly service.

I feel like a local, having frequented this lively restaurant for many years, their breakfast is hard to beat in the Dillon/Silverthorne/Frisco area. I always seem to end up with the Ultimate Skillet ($8.95), an iron skillet loaded with home fried potatoes, 3 eggs any way you like them, tomatoes, green bell pepper, onions, mushrooms, bacon, ham, and sausage, all smothered with country gravy and melted cheddar cheese. A fluffy buttermilk biscuit (muffin or toast also available) accompanied my skillet and would only have been better had there been a dollup of country gravy on top.

Mountain Lyon Cafe has pretty much everything you could imagine available for breakfast and lunch, from French toast to French fries, omelets to burgers, pancakes to pickles, you get the picture. One thing I did not see on the menu that I was craving was a chili and cheese omelet, plain old chili with no beans and lots of shredded cheddar cheese encased in a fluffy three egg delight! But alas, there were none:(

The Mountain Lyon is as much an experience as it is a meal with hoards of interesting locals and a few odd tourists of every size and disposition imaginable, with stories as long and varied as the people telling them. I shall return again if for nothing else but to see Brook with those big blue eyes and have her say “Welcome back to the Mountain Lyon Chris!”.

CombatCritic Gives Mountain Lyon Cafe 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Mountain Lyon Cafe on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Mountain Lion Cafe, mountain, lion, lyon, cafe, Silverthorne, Colorado, Dillon, Frisco, breakfast, lunch, eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, CombatCritic, TravelValue, combat, travel, value

Das Alpen Café (Rincón): Pretentious, Overpriced, Microwaved?


Das Alpen Café,
Rincón, Puerto Rico
$$$$$

Dinner Salad
Rincón is better known for big waves, deeply tanned surfers, and pizza joints than it is for fine dining and Das Alpen Café will not change that image. At the Southwest end of the plaza in heart of downtown Rincón, the restaurant is unassuming and having arrived on Three Kings Day (Puerto Rico’s second Christmas) we were not sure it was even open for business based on the sparseness of furnishings inside. If they were going for a minimalist look, they were highly successful.

We arrived shortly after six two nights later and beside the hostess and a waiter, we were the only people in sight. The hostess sat us and quickly returned to her dinner at the bar while typing away on her cell phone. The only thing in the room that looks Bavarian is the flag hanging in front of the kitchen entrance, the tables few and uncovered, and the music a light jazz with no resemblance to anything either Italian or German as is advertised.

Potato Leek Soup ($3.50) and Goat Cheese Tart ($8)
Our server, Jeffrey, was very nice and attentive. I ordered a stout ($9.50), one of only two draught beers on the menu and the closest thing to a Warsteiner Dunkle available and one of the most expensive beers I have consumed, including at overpriced airports. We started with the savory goat cheese tart (described as goat cheese with caramelized onions and basil – $8) and a cup of “crème of potatoes and leek soup” ($3.50). The soup quickly arrived and, while reasonably tasty, was lukewarm and could have used a garnish to add some color. We had to ask for bread, but by the time it finally arrived what was left of my soup was long cold. The tart was an utter disappointment. Looking more like a small, sad piece of quiche than a tart, it had obviously been “nuked” with the soggy crust separating from the filling and no caramelized onions or basil in sight.

Jägerschnitzel – $20
I had the Jaeger Schnitzel, described as “Hunters Schnitzel, a pork cutlet with white wine and cream reduction with bacon and wild mushroom served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumplings”. As a schnitzel lover, I have eaten schnitzel dozens of times throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and the United States, I was surprised by the size of the cutlet and not in a good way. German schnitzel normally covers a large plate, but the red cabbage dwarfed this one, yet looking massive next to “the” lone dumpling (not “dumplings” as was described on the menu). A little bigger than a Swedish meatball, I had to ration the little dumpling to make it last as long as possible. The hunter sauce was good, a bit too salty, with small pieces of mushroom, minced onion, and bacon, but barely enough to cover the cutlet and none leftover for the dumpling or bread, which was being rationed three small pieces at a time.

Forest Schnitzel – $20
My wife ordered the Forest Schnitzel, a “pork cutlet with Marsala wine and mushroom sauce served with red cabbage and homemade bread dumpling”. Again, the cutlet was small in comparison to every other schnitzel I have ever had, but the Marsala sauce was very good, light, and slightly sweet from the reduction of this fruity wine from the small town in Sicily where it gets its name. She also received one dumpling, slightly larger than mine, and left most of her red cabbage which was sweet and acidic as Bavarian red cabbage should be, but overcooked and soggy.

Das Alpen Café attempts to appear “gourmet” with large prices and small portions, but fails to deliver. German food in general and schnitzel in particular is meant to be consumed in large portions with an abundance of sauce and mushrooms, a large portion of potatoes or spaetzel, and nothing red or soggy on the plate. Granted, Rincón is a tourist area and prices are expected to be a bit higher than small fishing villages like Punta Santiago, but Das Alpen Café left me uninspired in terms of TravelValue.

CombatCritic Gives Das Alpen Café 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GUT!

Key Words: Das Alpen Café, alpen, café, Rincón, Ricon, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, German, Italian, food, dinner, tart, schnitzel, Jaeger, CombatCritic, TravelValue
Jaeger (Jäger) Schnitzel Recipe
Schnitzel
1-pound thin veal or pork cutlets
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3-cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-cup fine, dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Sauce
1 lb. Mushrooms, washed and cut into bite-size slices
2-3 slices bacon, sliced into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2-cup vegetable, beef, or chicken broth
1/2-cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon dried thy
A small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Extra milk as needed
Season each cutlet with salt and pepper (both sides) and let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. You will need 3 plates, adding flour to the first, eggs to the second, and breadcrumbs to the third. Arrange the plates in a row, close to the stove. Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy skillet or pan over moderately high heat for about 2 minutes. Coat each cutlet with flour, dunk it in the eggs, and then coat it with breadcrumbs, putting the coated cutlet immediately into the hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3 minutes or until each side is a deep golden brown. Remove the schnitzel and place it on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any extra grease and keep warm in the oven.
Using the same pan as you made the schnitzel in, fry the mushrooms until they begin releasing water. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add a little butter to the same pan, add onions and bacon, and cook until the onions begin to brown. Add the mushrooms back to the pan, then add the broth, cream, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring mixture up to a simmer and continue until liquid has noticeably reduced (about 15-20 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Stir milk into the sauce until the sauce reaches the desired consistency (shouldn’t be too thin). Remove pan from heat, stir in 2/3 of the chopped parsley, and add salt and pepper as needed. To serve, place a schnitzel on a plate and top with the sauce, sprinkling some chopped parsley over the sauce and serve with pan-fried potatoes or spaetzel (spätzel) … ENJOY!

The Java Break Breaks The Monotony … Coffee, Caffiene, Studying … What Else Do You Need?


Our very first visit, we had a cappuccino with homemade almond milk, a 16 ounce latte with skim milk, and a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast panino to start Christmas Eve Eve day, paying just $10 for the whole shebang!

The Java Break has friendly service and four large rooms perfect for studying while ingesting some much needed caffeine while studying or an early morning breakfast with your (my) sweety.

The place may seem small from the outside, but it’s not. They have fair prices and we will be back again soon!

CombatCritic Gives Java Break 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Break, coffee, CombatCritic, Java, Kansas, Lawrence, New Hampshire, TravelValue, combat, critic, coffee, cafe, caffiene, cup, joe
Rear (Right) Room
Rear (Left) Room
Coffee Menu
Sandwich Menu
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Panino – $5.25
Back Room

Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!


Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!

Little Saigon Cafe
1524B W 23rd Street
Lawrence, KS 66046


Open 10AM to 8PM daily 
Closed Sundays

Our friends told us about Little Saigon Cafe, a small, unassuming diner on 23rd Street, claiming that it is a terrific value.  I love Vietnamese food, particularly deep fried Vietnamese egg rolls with fresh mint, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and accompanied by a mild sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  Unfortunately, the fried egg rolls ($3.25 for two) only come with dipping sauce, so I asked if I could get some lettuce and mint and the lovely young lady that took our order was happy to comply.

Kitchen and Counter
You enter through what looks like a (black) service door next to what is supposed to be the main service entrance and give your order to the hostess at the cash register.  There is a large menu on the counter for reference, but it was slightly uncomfortable arriving for the first time, being unfamiliar with the menu and having to make a quick decision while trying not to hold-up the line behind us. The restaurant is small, four four-top tables and a counter that seats six, so after submitting our order, we were lucky enough to have one table still available.

I did not see a curry on the menu, for a Vietnamese restaurant an unusual experience, so I asked if they made any curries.  The man whom I assumed was the owner and knew was the chef (the kitchen is right there in front of you behind the counter) overheard me and said “we can make a curry with beef, chicken, tofu”, telling me the “Saigon Beef ($8.99) is not on the menu”.  Sold!  My wife, who is predominantly vegetarian, ordered the Vegetable and Tofu Pho ($6.99).  We also ordered the fried egg rolls, one order of pork and one vegetable (also $3.25) for my wife.

Fried Egg Roll with Lettuce and Mint
The hostess, who doubled as a server after taking our order at the counter, quickly arrived with the lettuce and mint, followed shortly thereafter with the egg rolls.  Unfortunately, both of our orders were overcooked, dark and crispy, and even though I like my egg rolls crispy, they were burnt and not golden brown as they should be.  The flavor was still good and the filling mostly pork in my case, a nice surprise for a carnivore such as myself.  The lettuce and mint helped mask the flavor of the overcooked egg rolls. I have had better Vietnamese egg rolls, with all of the accompaniments, elsewhere, but they filled the void in any event.

Saigon Beef – $8.99
The entrees arrived a little too quickly as we had only just received our appetizers, but it worked out well because the entrees had time to cool off enough to be able to eat.  My Saigon beef was massive, but mostly (egg) noodles and very little beef for the price.  There were six or seven very small pieces of sliced beef at the most, less than two ounces I would guess and not nearly enough to satiate my hunger for meat. Mostly noodles, the curry sauce was tasty at first bite and the dish was infused with stir-fried green onion and what appeared to be egg, a strange new addition in my experience. The combination of curry and egg was not something I have had before and after the first bite, it became a bit off-putting and with the small amount of beef rapidly depleted, I did not finish my dish.

Vegetable and Tofu Pho – $6.99

My lovely wife’s Vegetable Tofu Pho came in a massive bowl and was quite pleasing to the eye.  A savory blend of snap peas, tofu, bean sprouts, carrot, kale, peppers, green onions and egg noodles, the broth was light but flavorful and a nice choice for a cold winter’s night.

Little Saigon Cafe was decent, but not the best Vietnamese food I have eaten by far.  The entree prices seem a bit high for a few vegetables, broth, and noodles. With the Pho’s ingredients in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 max, $4.99 to $5.99 would be more reasonable than the current $6.99 price tag.  Many University of Kansas (KU) student reviews on Yelp and elsewhere indicated that the prices are in-fact a bit high and in a college town such as Lawrence, restaurants must cater to the needs of cash strapped students or face the music.  Little Saigon’s staff are very friendly and helpful, and that is a rarity these days, particularly in Lawrence where the food scene is not well known for excellence or customer service based on my experience.  The food is prepared to order and the ingredients fresh, so give Little Saigon Cafe a try … maybe the food will be more to your liking than mine, but then again, I am a bit finicky when it comes to Asian cuisine where lots of meat and thick, flavorful curries are more tantalizing to my tastebuds than broth, veggies, and noodles.

CombatCritic Gives Little Saigon Cafe 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!








Key Words: little, Saigon, cafe, Vietnam, Vietnamese, cuisine, food, eat, restaurant, diner, pho, curry, broth, vegetables, noodles, Asian, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic

Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)


Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)

Aladdin Café
1021 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: 785-832-1100

My wife had heard good things about Aladdin Café in downtown Lawrence (Mass Street), so we figured we would give it a try while a friend was visiting from Colorado.  She had never had middle-Eastern food before and was enticed by the unfamiliar smells emanating from the kitchen.  As we entered there were two parties seated out of probably 20 tables throughout the restaurant which is sparsely decorated with a small store containing a few middle-Eastern products in the rear next to the kitchen.  We stood there for close to five minutes while the only server in the place yukked it up with a table of three men whom apparently could not make up their minds and could obviously care less that we were standing there like bumps on a log.  She finally ended her conversation and came over tho seat us.

With no bar or alcohol on the menu, you are able to bring your own wine or beer (no corkage fee), so I had done my research on Yelp and brought a nice bottle of wine, a $10 Syrah that would easily cost $30 in most restaurants.  This is a nice option and it was the first time I had the opportunity to partake of such a custom, definitely keeping the bill from getting out of hand.  The server brought two glasses along with our water and a corkscrew.  It would have been nice if she had offered to open and pour the wine for us, and she would have been tipped accordingly, but that was not the case.  I opened the wine, poured, and waited for our server to take our order.


Being our first visit, we decided to try the Agrabah Appetizer Combo, a combination of hummus (blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic garnished with sumac, parsley, and hot sauce), baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant blended with

Appetizer Combo – $8.99

tahini sauce, lemon juice, and garlic), genie dip (roasted red pepper mixed with chickpeas, garlic, and tahini), falafel (deep fried patties of fava bean, chickpea, cilantro,

garlic, and onion blend), dolmati (VERY small rolled grape-leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and herbs, simmered in tomato and lemon juice), feta cheese, and Kalamata olives ($7.99) served with a small plate of pita bread.  After 20 minutes and no appetizer, I thought our server, who disappeared much of the time we were there, had forgotten, so we tracked her down to ensure our combo platter arrived well before our meals.  The hummus, genie dip, and baba ghanouj were plopped on the oval plate alongside two small falafels and two small dolmati.  Considering the price and that were were three, I would expect a bit more, considering the fact that the dolmati and falafels were so small you could pop one in your mouth and still have room for an entire White Castle burger.  

Falafel Sandwich with French Fries – $8.99
My wife had the Falafel and Baba Ghanouj Sandwich (Vegan – roasted eggplant spread and falafel served with tahini sauce on pita bread – $7.99) which came with rice.  My wife wanted French fries instead of rice, so the server told us it would be a $1.00 up-charge, not unreasonable, but when the plate arrived there were hardly any fries, maybe six or seven medium size pieces and not nearly enough to satisfy her hunger or justify an extra dollar.  The sandwich had much more lettuce than fillings, a couple small falafels in a medium size pita and at $8.99 including fries, no bargain.  My wife is not a big eater and was still hungry after finishing her food, not a good sign.

Beef and Lamb Gyro w/ Fries – $8.99
I decided to try Aladdin’s Gyro, a combination of grilled lamb and beef ($7.99 – chicken also available) with lettuce and tomato and topped with tzatziki, a creamy Greek cucumber sauce.  I also ordered the fries and after tasting our friend’s rice and was happy to pay an extra dollar for a few measly French fries.  Her rice was bland and white with a dollup of canned mystery tomato sauce on top, a tasteless side and nothing like the wonderful saffron rice I had eaten in the middle-East in the early 2000’s.  The few small slices of gyro meat inside were overwhelmed by the massive amounts of cheap lettuce and a few pieces of tomato.  I have had gyros with three times the meat in Greece and the U.S. that were less than half the price, so do not expect good value when visiting Aladdin Café.

I am not a huge fan of middle-Eastern cuisine, but the offerings at Aladdin were enough to allow some variety.  The service was inadequate, the food mediocre and NOT plentiful, and the ambience non existent.  It is unfortunate because we live just a few blocks away from Aladdin and it would be nice to have a few exotic options in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the only thing exotic about Aladdin Café on Mass Street are the prices and that is not a good thing.

CombatCritic gives Aladdin Café 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





Aladdin Cafe on Urbanspoon


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Key Words: Aladdin, Cafe, middle, eastern, falafel, gyro, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, service, hummus, baba, ghanouj, pita, bread, tzatziki, CombatCritic

Basil Leaf Cafe … Mama Mia, That’s One Spicy Meatball


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

When I was told by a Lawrence Bohemian acquaintance of mine that “the Basil Leaf Cafe has the best Italian food in Lawrence”, I was intrigued because we have yet to find a decent restaurant of ANY kind since moving here in August. Paisano’s (reviewed in August 2013) is “OK”, but nothing to write home about, so our quest to add a new Italian restaurant to our arsenal continues.


Enter … The Basil Leaf Cafe. Yelp reviews are mostly positive with people raving about the food, but slamming the “gas station” decor of the previous location (it really was in a gas station). The new building sits in a row of shops on 9th Street not far from downtown and the University of Kansas campus. The decor is modern with a smattering of tables (about 8) in a room that could easily handle 12 or more. The arrangement of tables, bar, kitchen window and cash register is inefficient, appearing as though there really was not a plan in the first place.

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

We sat at a table uncomfortably close to the front door and were quickly greeted and given menus. I ordered a glass of the house wine, a “primativo” that was aptly named being primitive and obviously cheap. At $6.00 a glass, I would not be surprised if the mark-up was in the 600% to 700% range. The glass was small and filled a little more than halfway, leaving four, maybe five, ounces …


I ordered the New England (the white variety) clam chowder, the tortellini cordon bleu, and a side of meatballs. After asking for water three times, my wife finally received hers, but I had to ask yet again to get mine, coming in a mason jar for some odd reason. This restaurant is apparently trying to find an identity with its’ eclectic menu, modern decor, and new location, but they obviously have not figured it out yet. The soup finally arrived just seconds before our

Having lived in Italy for three years and traveling there extensively over the years, I found that Italians would NEVER think of eating meat and pasta together. Basil Leaf’s menu is not even close to authentic Italian. Meat loaf? Yes, Italians actually eat meat loaf, calling it “polpetone”, literally “big meatball” (meatballs are called polpette in Italy). They eat meatballs too, but NEVER WITH SPAGHETTI!  Spaghetti and other pasta dishes are called “primo piatto” or “first plate” and are also referred to as “primi” for short. Meat dishes fall into the “secondo piatto” or “second plate”, aka “secondi” and are not brought to the table until the antipasto (appetizer) and primo have been consumed.

Anyway, the New England clam chowder came in the smallest soup cup I had ever seen and was filled a little more than halfway. I asked the server if I could get some bread with my soup, but she said “the bread sticks come with your entree”. Translation: “No, you cannot”. Fortunately, the entrees arrived just seconds after I got my soup, so it did not take long to consume it and prepare for my oversize entree.

I had heard good things about Basil Leaf’s tortellini cordon bleu on Yelp, so I had to try it. The presentation was well done, being served in an oversize bowl (see photo). I love veal and schnitzel (pork cutlet) cordon bleu and this dish actually came close in terms of taste. Nontraditionally covered with a chicken cutlet (something you would never see in a classic Italian restaurant), the dish reminds me of a carbonara with ham and cheese added. It was delicious, but would have been better had it been served fresh from the pan and hot (warm). I finished half of the pasta, the lone bread stick (cut loose folks), and one of the three meatballs, leaving me a hearty dinner for the following night. The meatballs were excellent, having the correct consistency and seasoning and obviously homemade. Kudos to the chef!

Mac and Cheese

My wife ordered the “mac and cheese”, another heaping helping of handmade pasta reminiscent of my Aunt Gina’s chicatielli from Ariano, Irpino (Italy). The sauce was creamy and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. Being a native Italian born in Sicily, her palate is well honed when it comes to pasta, an Italian staple. She liked the mac and cheese even though there is no such recipe in her homeland.


Basil Leaf Cafe left us unimpressed. Maybe it was because of the hype, maybe a bad night, time will tell. The pasta dishes, “starters”, and salads are overpriced ($8 for a house salad?) as was the wine ($6 for 4 ounces of cheap wine). The decor needs some warming up, the tables could be rearranged to seat more customers or create a much needed waiting area (waiting customers now hover over tables of seated customers), the service sketchy, and the menu and food underwhelming. I spotted only two or three dishes on the limited menu that I would bother ordering, so our options for a return visit are already limited. There are enough “classic” Italian pasta sauce recipes to fill the menu twice over (carbonara, amatriciana, ragu, bolagnese, boscaiola, marinara, alfredo to name a few), so embrace something … anything … and create an identity in your decor, servers, and menu fit for a town that still does not have an Italian restaurant worthy of our custom.


CombatCritic Gives Basil Leaf Cafe 5 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs are Good!

The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon














Key Words: basil, leaf, cafe, Italian, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, pasta, soup, salad, wine, vino, meatball, marinara, penne, spaghetti, macaroni, cheese, CombatCritic, 66044