CombatCritic’s "TravelValue" – Nearly 45,000 Views In The Past Year – Thanks To You!


Total Monthly Views (May 2014 – July 2015)
44,065 Views Between July 2014 To June 2015

Growing Exponentially … We Owe It All To You … Thank You For Your Loyalty!


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


Title:  CombatCritic’s “TravelValue” – Nearly 45,000 Views In The Past Year – Thanks To You!

Key Words: CombatCritic, TravelValue, eZine, travel value, combat, critic, view, views, stats, 2014, 2015, statistics, audience, customer, customer service, annual, monthly

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I Have A "Hunch" You Will Like "Il Gobbetto"


Il Gobbetto
Via Sergente Maggiore 8
80132 Naples, Campania, Italy
Phone: +39 081 2512435

Prices: $$$$$

I had read the favorable reviews of Il Gobbetto, literally “The Hunchback”, so we decided to have a look inside as we happened by. It is a cute little place just off Via Toledo and a stones throw from the infamous Teatro San Carlo, but a bit cramped with too many tables for the small room. It seems as though they cater to tourists as foreigners made up most of the clientele. We were squeezed into a corner table by the owner who speaks a little English, making maneuvering the elbows a little difficult.
As is usually the case, our eyes were, metaphorically speaking, bigger than our stomachs and we ended up ordering antipasti (appetizers) and primi (first courses). For my wife’s antipasto she ordered the Pacchero Fritto (€3), four deep fried ??? cheese squares that were rather uninspiring. I on the other hand had l’insalata Caprese (Caprese salad – €6), sliced, ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes on a bed of rucola, and thick slices of mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella cheese made from milk of water buffalo, a specialty of Southern Italy’s Mediterranean coastal region) topped with fresh basil leaves. You would easily pay $8 to $15 for a dish like this in the states, so the $6.75 price tag was not difficult to swallow … yuk-yuk.

For our primi and final courses of the night we decided to go with pasta. My wife had the Gnocchi del Gobbetto (€6), handmade gnocchi (potato dumplings) in a creamy cheese sauce with sliced zucchini and topped with fresh basil. The gnocchi were perfectly cooked, not too soft, not too hard, and the sauce perfectly complimented the lightness of the thinly sliced zucchini. The portion was perfect with just enough to fill you without bursting and the price extremely fair compared to U.S. restaurant standards.
My Orecchiette Salsiccia e Provola (ear shaped pasta in a tomato sauce with ground sweet sausage and melted provolone cheese – €6) was exquisite. Again, handmade pasta, as is the case in most restaurants in Italy, was in just the right proportion to sauce, sausage and provolone, and was perfectly “al dente”. One of my all-time favorite dishes is orecchiette salsiccia e friarielli (sausage and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic) and this was the first time I tried a version with tomato sauce. It may not become my favorite, but I will definitely be playing with this recipe at home and would order it again in a flash … HOOAH!

Cover charge (coperto) is just €1 per person, the service was excellent, and things moved quickly even though they were rather busy.  The owner even took time to dance with a couple of pretty young lady customers in the middle of the room while his wife slaved away in the kitchen (I hope she doesn’t read this or I might get him in trouble). Their house red (or white) wine, which is very good, comes in at a paltry €3 per bottle (compare that to a half-liter of inferior house red at Pizzeria Sorbillo – €9) and a liter of mineral water is just €1.50 (€1.50 for a half-liter at Sorbillo). Our bill came to just €28.50 for two courses, wine, and water (plus tip), a tremendous bargain and worth feeling a bit claustrophobic.

CombatCritic Gives Il Gobbetto A Very Solid 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better



Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


 Menu (English)
Title: I Have A “Hunch” You Will Like “Il Gobbetto”
Key Words: Il Gobbetto, gobbetto, hunchback, hunch, osteria, restaurant, pasta, antipasto, Caprese, salad, menu, review, Naples, Napoli, Italy, Italia, CombatCritic, travel, value, critic, combat

JustFly.com Offers A Good Price, But Little Else


I was taken to JustFly.com’s website after searching Kayak, United, Delta, and Lufthansa extensively for fares on an upcoming overseas trip. I was hesitant at first being a unfamiliar website, but I decided to give them a try with the following reservations, pun intended …

First, people need more information before paying for a reservation, like applicable baggage fees (not just a disclaimer saying “the airline MAY require baggage fees”), to make an informed decision. JustFly does not provide actual fees, only the disclaimer. Fortunately, having flown Lufthansa many times in the past, the carrier for the trip, I knew that the first bag (up to 50 pounds) was free, making the decision a bit easier.

Second, JustFly does not provide a way to enter frequent flyer account information either before or after purchase.  I assumed that once registered with their site, I would be able to update my profile with the data, but that was not the case. The only information available for editing on their website are name and email address, no seat or meal preferences, home airport, passport information, or anything else for that matter. The ability to enter frequent flyer and other pertinent personal information once would save customers a lot of time later and help ensure they return to make future purchases.

The only plus was that their price and itinerary were better than I could find even on Lufthansa.com, therefore …

CombatCritic Gives JustFly.com 4 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!







Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube
Title: JustFly.com Offers A Good Price, But Little Else

Key Words: JustFly, just, fly, airfare, airline, travel, fare, reservation, trip, website, frequent, flyer, miles, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, critic

Parmarth Niketan Ashram … A Definite DO NOT MISS in Rishikesh


Parmarth Niketan Ashram
Swarg Ashram (250 Meters South of Ram Jhula Bridge)
Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India

Parmarth Niketan Ashram is definitely worth a visit if for nothing else than the beautiful 5pm ceremony on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges). I had difficulty finding it on TripAdvisor because of the confusing map links, taking me near the Ram Jhula Bridge instead of 250-300 meters south to Parmarth Niketan.


From Ram Jhula Bridge, head south and keep to the right at the junction, taking you through the many stalls along the river and a covered market and continuing another 200-300 meters where you will see the riverfront stage to your right and the ashram to your left (you cannot miss it).
The Parmarth Niketan Ashram is worth a stroll with beautiful sculptures, gardens, buildings (dorms, meditation/dining halls, etc) and shops. I understand that you can stay here rather cheaply (if not free) for meditation, devotion, yoga, and meals, but I will not lead you to believe that I understand the specifics. htto://www.Parmarth.com has much more information, so I recommend you contact them for details. There are also free toilets (western-style sitters beside the “squatting” variety), snack stands, and benches to sit on.

Arrive for the 5:00PM ceremony early (4:30 recommended by locals, but in mid-December space was not a problem) and get a seat near the main steps to join in the melodic and visually stunning ceremony. The monks start arriving around 4:30 and loosen up their vocal chords, singing beautiful Hindu songs and praising Krishna as the sun starts setting slowly in the west on the other side of the river. It lasts about 30 minutes (until 5:30), ending in a fire offering where candles are lit, passed around the crowd for blessings, and placed in the river to float downstream and out of view as darkness ensues on Mother Ganga.

CombatCritic Gives Parmarth Niketan Ashram 10 Out of 10 Bombs … It’s FREE and a Definite DO NOT MISS in Rishikesh … More Bombs Are Better!



Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Parmarth, Niketan, Ashram, Rishikesh, India, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, yoga, meditation, Ram Jhula, ram, jhula

Malara’s: Scrambled Egg Carbonara?


Malara’s
2123 Pierce Street Omaha, NE 


Prices: $$$$$

With a dearth of good Italian restaurants in our hometown of Lawrence (Kansas), we decided to try Malara’s on a recent trip to Omaha after having read the rave reviews on Yelp. After our dinner, however, I am left wondering how this place ended up with 4 stars.


The place is huge and the decor a bit tacky, looking as if it has not been redecorated since the 1970’s. We were seated quickly, but ignored for the first ten minutes we were there. I had to grab a wine list from another table because I could not get the server’s attention, had I known whom he or she was.

Dinners come with a salad and although fresh, there was nothing but lettuce and that was drenched in an oil and vinegar dressing. The “bread” were rolls that looked as if they came out of a bag and heated in the oven.

My wife had the spaghetti carbonara ($11.95). The spaghetti was pretty good, advertised as being homemade, but the sauce was too oily and there was hardly any bacon in sight. Instead of adding raw egg to the finished dish before tossing the pasta, they added scrambled eggs, something I have never seen done before.

I had the veal parmigiana, ($16.95) which was not bad, but far from the best I have eaten. The portion size was adequate, the sauce pretty good, although a bit sweet for my taste, and the cheese melted to perfection. As is the case in most Italian (American) restaurants, there was far too much sauce on the pasta, but it tasted OK. When I asked the server if we could get some more bread, I was told that it would cost an “extra 25 cents each”, so we SPLURGED! Enough said.

Removing the scrambled egg carbonara and 25 cent bread rolls from the equation, I would have likely given Malara’s 5, maybe 6, bombs out of 10 for the very average food at reasonable prices (value). Lose the scrambled eggs and give folks an extra roll or two … is another 50 cents really worth upsetting customers over?


CombatCritic Gives Malara’s 4 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Malara's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon








Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Malara’s, malara, Italian, restaurant, Omaha, Nebraska, NE, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, menu, pasta, veal, carbonara

Adventure Zip KC … Fun, Safe, Exciting Ziplining Near Kansas City


Watch My Zipline Adventure on The CombatCritic Channel on YouTube

Adventure Zip KC

12829 Loring Road

Bonner Springs, KS 66012

Phone: 913-302-8881

Yelp Elite ’14 Newbies with Matt E (2nd from left)
I was lucky enough to be invited to Yelp KC’s “Newbie Elite Aerial (Ziplining) Adventure” at Adventure Zip KC (AZKC), just outside of Bonner Springs, Kansas in the hills above several large limestone caverns, by Matt E, Yelp Kansas City’s Community Manager. Yelp “Elite” are those deemed worthy of the title based on reviewing prowess and acumen during the previous year and I was honored with the title early this year.

AZKC is run by a group of eclectic, young, enthusiastic guides that entertain and ensure am exciting yet safe outdoor adventure. We were met by Matt E and AZKC staff when we arrived, signing waivers (in case something went horribly wrong) and suiting up in the ziplining harnesses and helmets. I brought my GoPro and helmet (with a camera mount), but make sure that yours meets OSHA and other safety standards, otherwise you will not be allowed to use it. Mine did.

It was a hot day, around 100 degrees, but fortunately the surrounding woods provided shade and a respite from the heat. After suiting up, we jumped on the old school bus and made our way through the woods (watch out for poison ivy/oak and stinging nettles) to the first zipline station, a short traverse across a small canyon. After getting hooked-up to the line, I took several steps before being hoisted into the air and across the canyon at a leisurely, but fun, pace. The ziplines became longer, steeper, faster, and more exciting as we progressed on our journey.

AZKC’s staff provided the necessary safety information along with loads of jokes and puns, making the two hour adventure not just safe but fun. The second zipline was much longer and faster than the first, but there was a guide at the other end waiting to help slow our descent into a safe stop. The third and final zipline was the longest of the three, starting atop a small tower and ending on the other side on a pivoting contraption that took some quick adjustments in order to remain standing. We then hiked up the hill to “the tower” (which was not included in our visit) to catch our bus back to base camp. 

The “HIKE & ZIP” PACKAGE lasts 1 – 1.5 Hours, includes three zips and free equipment for $49.99. The “Tower Zip” lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, starts off on the 65 foot tower where you zip 5 great, unique lines, and includes a guided tour and equipment ($79.99). Or you can zip all eight (8) lines for $99.99.

Amanda, Matt, Terry, Christ, and CombatCritic
In all, it was a fun and exciting adventure, not too demanding for an old military retiree with bad knees and back. Be prepared for short hikes up and down moderate inclines with rocky, uneven surfaces. Otherwise, the zipling itself is rather easy on the body as long as you listen to the safety briefings. My only disappointment was when I handed our young female guide a $20 tip as we left (after all, it was a complimentary “Yelp Elite Event) and she did not bother getting out of her chair to thank us or say goodbye. I doubt if many patrons tip $20 or more, so a little appreciation would have been appropriate. Otherwise, it was a great day!

CombatCritic Gives Adventure Zip KC 8 Bombs Out of 10


Key Words: Yelp, elite, aerial, adventure, Kansas City, ziplining, zip, KC, CombatCritic, combat, critic, travelvalue, travel, value, Bonner Springs, Kansas, zipline, line, outdoor

Yelp KC: Newbie Elite Aerial (Ziplining) Adventure (Zip KC)


Watch Our Yelp Zipline Adventure on The CombatCritic Channel on YouTube
Yelp Elite ’14 Newbies with Matt E (2nd from left)
I was lucky enough to be invited to Yelp KC’s “Newbie Elite Aerial (Ziplining) Adventure” at Adventure Zip KC (AZKC), just outside of Bonner Springs, Kansas in the hills above several large limestone caverns, by Matt E, Yelp Kansas City’s Community Manager. Yelp “Elite” are those deemed worthy of the title based on reviewing prowess and acumen during the previous year and I was honored with the title early this year.

AZKC is run by a group of eclectic, young, enthusiastic guides that entertain and ensure am exciting yet safe outdoor adventure. We were met by Matt E and AZKC staff when we arrived, signing waivers (in case something went horribly wrong) and suiting up in the ziplining harnesses and helmets. I brought my GoPro and helmet (with a camera mount), but make sure that yours meets OSHA and other safety standards, otherwise you will not be allowed to use it. Mine did.

It was a hot day, around 100 degrees, but fortunately the surrounding woods provided shade and a respite from the heat. After suiting up, we jumped on the old school bus and made our way through the woods (watch out for poison ivy/oak and stinging nettles) to the first zipline station, a short traverse across a small canyon. After getting hooked-up to the line, I took several steps before being hoisted into the air and across the canyon at a leisurely, but fun, pace. The ziplines became longer, steeper, faster, and more exciting as we progressed on our journey.

AZKC’s staff provided the necessary safety information along with loads of jokes and puns, making the two hour adventure not just safe but fun. The second zipline was much longer and faster than the first, but there was a guide at the other end waiting to help slow our descent into a safe stop. The third and final zipline was the longest of the three, starting atop a small tower and ending on the other side on a pivoting contraption that took some quick adjustments in order to remain standing. We then hiked up the hill to “the tower” (which was not included in our visit) to catch our bus back to base camp. 

The “HIKE & ZIP” PACKAGE lasts 1 – 1.5 Hours, includes three zips and free equipment for $49.99. The “Tower Zip” lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, starts off on the 65 foot tower where you zip 5 great, unique lines, and includes a guided tour and equipment ($79.99). Or you can zip all eight (8) lines for $99.99.

Amanda, Matt, Terry, Christ, and CombatCritic
In all, it was a fun and exciting adventure, not too demanding for an old military retiree with bad knees and back. Be prepared for short hikes up and down moderate inclines with rocky, uneven surfaces. Otherwise, the zipling itself is rather easy on the body as long as you listen to the safety briefings. My only disappointment was when I handed our young female guide a $20 tip as we left (after all, it was a complimentary “Yelp Elite Event) and she did not bother getting out of her chair to thank us or say goodbye. I doubt if many patrons tip $20 or more, so a little appreciation would have been appropriate. Otherwise, it was a great day!

CombatCritic Gives Yelp’s Newbie Elite Aerial Adventure 10 Bombs Out of 10


Key Words: Yelp, elite, aerial, adventure, Kansas City, ziplining, zip, KC, CombatCritic, combat, critic, travelvalue, travel, value, Bonner Springs, Kansas, zipline, line, outdoor
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Balmy Nights, Harbor Lights


On my first visit, the place was quiet being a Thursday night before 8 pm. A few folks on the back patio, a group of noisy guys at a table, and a few “locals” bellied up to the bar, including me I guess.


I ordered an O’Dells IPA, not inexpensive at $5 for an  “American” pint (16 ounces versus 19.2 in an “Imperial”, British, pint), but not outrageous, with a head so big that a Brit would seethe. It was cold and wet, not room temperature like a traditional English IPA would be, but hey … THIS IS LAWRENCE … WE ARE IN KANSAS DOROTHY … Heeee heeee heeee heeee, I’ll get you my pretty AND YOUR LITTLE DOG TOO!


The bartender, a 30-something woman in jeans and t-shirt named Heather, was quiet yet nice and the only person to actually acknowledge my existence.  A few neon signs, a dirty floor, a couple of pool tables and dart boards, the place is a bit divey, but isn’t that the way bars should be?


I’ll be updating this review as the summer languishes and I become more familiar with Lawrence’s public houses.

CombatCritic Gives Harbor Lights 6 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!







Key Words: Harbor Lights, harbor, lights, pub, bar, beer, drink, Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts, Mass, street, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, combat, critic, menu

Natural Goal "#1 Premium Oregano Oil" … Great Product, Excellent Value, Carry-On Size


Natural Goal “#1 Premium Oregano Oil” (natural origanum vulgare – 1oz/30ml – $22.95) is the only PURE Oil of Oregano I could find in stores or on the internet (Amazon). Health stores and natural grocers sell HIGHLY DILUTED oil of oregano for the same price or more. The diluted oil sold in stores and online equates to $100 an ounce and up, making this oil an excellent value. As a consumer, I highly recommend it!

Oil of Oregano has so many uses and because of the 1 ounce size, it can even be carried on an airplane! With uses from aromatherapy to skin applications and beyond, its reported antibiotic properties could be invaluable on a trip, particularly in a foreign country where language and medical services could be a challenge.

WARNING: Make sure that you read the label and about proper use of the product, checking with your healthcare provider before using this or any “natural” product as it is highly concentrated, not regulated by the FDA, and can cause severe symptoms, particularly if ingested.


CombatCritic Gives Natural Goal “#1 Premium Oregano Oil” 9 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!


Key Words: Natural Goal #1 Premium Oregano Oil, natural, goal, premium, oregano, oil, origanum vulgare, origanum, vulgare, Dr Oz, Dr. Oz, Dr, Oz, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, combat, critic

Ad Astra Acupuncture … Excellent Value, Professional Services


Ad Astra Acupuncture

106 W North Park St
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: (785) 760-1961


Focusing on value, it does not get much better than Ad Astra Acupuncture, just off  Mass on 12th Street across from South Park.

Treatments are $15-$35 (suggested donation) … You decide! There is no pressure to pay the max as employees pay no attention to the amount, tossing the bills into a drawer without counting. Honor System … WHAT A CONCEPT! 

Needles are sterile and not reused. There are a number of recliners in each of two “group” rooms and there is no disrobing for the introverts out there. All you do is show up, pay, and grab a recliner. When the therapist enters, they ask how you are doing, then place needles in your arms, legs, hands, feet, and head. After 30-60 minutes (or more if you like), Nick or Ann, who are both wonderful, remove the needles and send you in your way.

I have been going for about 6 weeks, I am feeling much better, and my back pain has almost entirely disappeared! There is little if any pain involved and only when needles are inserted. The slight sting disappears quickly and you can then focus on relaxing, a wonderful byproduct of the treatment.

CombatCritic Gives AD ASTRA ACUPUNCTURE a nearly perfect 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREAT!




Read this review and many others on Yelp!

Title: Ad Astra Acupuncture … Excellent Value, Professional Services

Key Words: 66044, acupuncture, ad, Ad Astra, Astra, combat, CombatCritic, critic, Kansas, Lawrence, travel, TravelValue, value, 

Absence Does Not Necessarily Make The Heart Grow Fonda


Amanda’s Fonda
3625 W. Colorado Ave 
Colorado SpringsCO80904


An old haunt, I had to try it again after 6 years in the Midwest … Tacos, enchiladas, you know the drill. 




The shredded beef tacos were OK, little meat or cheese, but what was there tasted good. The cheese and onion enchilada was decent, but the sauce was rather bland. The chips were decent, the salsa very good, but the guacamole was a bit pricey for the size so we steered away from an appetizer.



I remembered the food being better … I guess absence does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Ever been back to your high school? Disappointing, small, but you still have fond memories.



CombatCritic Gives Amanda’s Fonda 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!



UPDATE: After my check-in, the manager contacted me and offered a gift card and an invitation to return and give Amanda’s Fonda another try. I will return next time I am in Colorado Springs and will update my review based on that experience. “6 BOMBS” is not a “bad” review, but leaves room for some improvement … SPERIAMO (let’s hope so)!

Amanda's Fonda on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Amanda’s Fonda, Amanda, fonda, Colorado Springs, Colorado, springs, 80904, Mexican, food, taco, enchilada, chips, salsa, guacamole, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

Great Harvest Bread Company: Great Bread, High Prices Equal Moderate Value


Lawrence, Kansas: I had seen Great Harvest while driving up Vermont, but being a regular at Wheatfield’s (less than two blocks away), I had not bothered to stop in. My wife and I had to park across the street from Great Harvest during a recent visit to Massachusetts Street for some shopping, so we decided to go in.

As we entered, the aroma of freshly baked bread and pies consumed me as the baker and ovens are directly behind the counter and he was removing piping-hot pie from the oven. Flavors vary by season.

Unlike Wheatfield’s, bread is self-service in plastic wrap on shelving next to the counter. There were samples of five different breads and a bowl full of butter next to the register and when I inquired about the offerings, the young lady sliced a piece of multigrain bread as wide and thick as the palm of my hand. The bread was moist and crunchy with chunks of wholegrain throughout, the crust being a bit too soft for my taste, but delicious nonetheless. At nearly $6 a loaf, the bread is more than I have ever paid for a loaf and $1-$2 more than their competitor down the street.

The pies were gorgeous, a plump golden brown, but at $16 a pop, a bit pricey for my taste. Their products are obviously high in quality and flavor, so the only thing limiting my rating to four stars and not five was the prices. The service was excellent, the bread delicious, the prices a bit high … 

CombatCritic Gives Great Harvest Bread Company 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Great Harvest Bread Company, great, harvest, bread, company, Lawrence, Kansas, Vermont, 66044, pie, multigrain, bakery, baker, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

Don’s Auto Center: An Honest Business In A World Plagued By A Lack Of Integrity


Lawrence, Kansas: I took our 2000 VW Beetle TDI to Don’s Auto Center to see if the “problems” another mechanic (Das Autohaus – see review at http://www.combatcritic.com/2013/12/if-you-want-to-spend-lots-of-money-take.html) told me needed repairing were indeed concerns. On my recent Das Autohaus invoice, the owner had stated that the vehicle needed “new struts” ($400-$600 on RepairPal) and removal of “excess carbon buildup on intake manifold” (which I had done less than two years and 20,000 miles ago at a cost of $700), for a total of $1,100 to $1,300 in repairs.

I had recently taken the vehicle on a 500+ mile trip to Colorado to visit my mother and noticed that the fuel economy was six to seven miles per gallon less than last summer (intake manifold?) and the ride somewhat rough (struts?), so I decided to take the vehicle to Don’s when I returned to see if the Das Autohaus “recommendations” were accurate.

I explained to Mike, the owner of Don’s, what the symptoms were and what I thought could possibly be causing them (based on the Das Autohaus diagnoses – struts and carbon in manifold). Mike called me later that day and told me that he had checked the suspension thoroughly and found “no issues”, no concerns and certainly no need for new struts. He told me the cause of the rough ride was likely caused by the tires being overinflated and simply let some air out of the tires. As for the poor gas mileage and possible carbon buildup on the intake manifold, Mike said that the winter additives in the diesel fuel cause lower gas mileage and because the manifold was cleaned less than 20,000 miles ago, there was no need to have it done again. He told me that the air filter was a bit dirty, so I had him replace it and do an oil change ($30 for an air filter, $50/gallon for synthetic motor oil) for a total of LESS THAN $200 and OVER $1,000 LESS THAN THE DAS AUTOHAUS “NEEDED REPAIRS”.

I thanked Mike for his honesty and integrity, values I as a retired military officer hold dear, and will return to have him service our
vehicles from now on. You can come to your own conclusions regarding Das Autohaus. All I know is that by taking our vehicle literally a couple blocks down the street to an honest mechanic, we saved over $1,000. Enough said … THANKS MIKE!


Key Words: Don’s Auto Center, Don’s, auto, center, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, honest, mechanic, integrity, honor, price, fair, manifold, tire, strut, repair, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

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! 

Absence From Amanda’s Fonda Does Not Make The Heart Grow Fonda


An old haunt, had to try it again after. 6 years in the Midwest … Tacos, enchiladas, you know the drill. 
It was only 4:30pm, but no hostess and just one server? We waited 10 minutes until she arrived, then she had 5-6 other tables to wait on, made the margaritas, and probably cooked the food. Hardly ever saw her.

The shredded beef tacos were OK, little meat or cheese. The cheese and onion enchilada was decent, but the sauce rather bland. Chips thin and tasty, salsa very good, the guacamole was a bit pricey for the size so we steered away.

Remembered the food being better … Absence does not necessarily make the heart fonder! Ever been back to your high school? Disappointing, but you still have fond memories.

CombatCritic Gives Amanda’s Fonda 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Amanda's Fonda on Urbanspoon

Don’t Trust Me … Check out Amanda’s Fonda On yelp!

Key Words: Amanda’s Fonda, Amanda, Fonda, fonder, taco, taco, enchilada, burrito, eat, food, restaurant, lunch, dinner, CombatCritic, Yelp, Foursquare, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel

Marsana Wellness in Rincón, Puerto Rico Is Neither A Beachhouse Nor A Spa


“Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa” is neither a spa nor a beach house, it is a large house with four guest rooms a couple blocks from a beach with hardly any sand and with an empty hot tub.

When we arrived after having informed the owner of our exact arrival time, his daughter Marina met us at the gate and asked “can I help you”, not in a friendly manner but as if we did not belong in the neighborhood. Once I told her we were guests, she was very friendly and escorted us to our room. We did not see her again for the next 7 days although it would have been nice to get some local information.

The room was nice, medium in size with a queen size bed, pull out futon-type sofa, a small fridge, wardrobe, TV with cable, and an air conditioning unit. Our room faced the back yard and had a large terrace with a table, two chairs, and a hammock and where we spent a majority of our time. The small bathroom was functional with a large tile shower, toilet and vanity.

Marina’s brother Yuri was around more than she was, doing odd jobs around the house and although friendly enough, never stopped to talk. The house is a work in progress and has a large terrace taking up 2/3 of the roof where there are tables, chairs, and the empty hot tub. The stars at night were fantastic as Rincón is a fairly small town far away from the bright city lights.

There are plenty of restaurants in the area, including Das Alpen Café, a German and Italian restaurant in the center of Rincón with small portions and large prices, El Tapatio, a good, inexpensive Mexican restaurant just north of the house on PR-115 going toward Aguada, and several bakeries, the best being Panaderia Eileen just a block south on 115 where you can get wonderful pastries ($1 each), cheap sandwiches ($2.00-$3.75), and assorted drinks and beer. The bakeries in Puerto Rico have a little bit of everything, including a hot table with carne guisada (beef stew – $2), ribs, chicken, rice, beans, and other local foods. They are a great place to pick up a quick lunch or take some food home for dinner and many have tables where you can eat your toasted sandwich or carne guisada.

Being winter, the winds blew from the East most of the three weeks we were in Puerto Rico, making for poor snorkeling and challenging swimming. The seas around Rincón were rough most of the week we were there, so we found a very nice beach about 10 miles north in Aguadilla called Crash Boat Beach. Crash Boat is clean, has nice sand, a shallow, sandy bottom, and because it faces southwest it avoids the swells and large waves from the north, making for clear water and good snorkeling. There is a bar in the parking lot with cheap beer (Medalla – $1.50) and drinks (piña colada – $4), and there are a few food vendors adjacent in the lot with grilled chicken, pizza, frappes and other snacks. There is not a reef in the area and few rocks, but the visibility was 40-50 feet and there were occasional visits by small schools of fish and a few large Jacks from time to time.

The only snorkeling beach in Rincón at this time of year was Balneario Rincón, a small beach just north of town of Route 430 with a reef that can be accessed from the small sandy beach on the north end past the boat ramp. Steps Beach, named after the set of concrete steps precariously perched on the reef, is reportedly the best snorkeling beach in the area and is quite beautiful, but the water was inaccessible during our stay due to the rough seas and lack of a sandy bottom, only reef. We saw Sandy Beach and Pools Beach, a mile or two north of Steps, but although quite pretty, neither were good for anything but sunbathing because they face north and water was rough.

The description of the property on AirBnB was deceiving because there are no spa services available, no meals or breakfast as advertised, and parking is a challenge with just two spaces available (unsecured) for at least four rooms. The “Jacuzzi” was empty and there are no doctors on staff. The highlight of the week were their four dogs who kept us company and were the sweetest they could be. If you do not like or are afraid of dogs, this is not the place for you. There is an outdoor kitchen for guests to use with few plates, utensils, or pots/pans, so cooking would prove challenging if so inclined. But at $45 a night the room was a decent value, but nothing special. I saw that they raised their rates to $60 since we booked and believe you can find better value elsewhere in the area, possibly on the ocean or with a sea view.

CombatCritic Gives Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!


PostScript: AirBnB asks guests to review the properties where they stay as well as providing feedback to the host. This is the feedback I provided to Dr. Michael Morales, our host, who was not on the property during the week we stayed at “Marsana Wellness Beachhouse and Spa”:

“We enjoyed our stay, especially your sweet, wonderful dogs. We were pleased overall with the accommodations, but felt your description was misleading. As a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, honesty and integrity are very important to me and I do not like being misled. My decision to stay at your “beachhouse and spa” was partially influenced by your description:

“mountain-beach views” 

– I could barely see the water from the roof, not a beach in sight 

“organic natural macrobiotic and vegan cuisine” 

– Yuri and Marina may be eating it, but we were never told about it

“wholistic therapies, treatments, classes” 

– Where, when? Why were we not informed of these options and who was leading them? 

“natural foods catering, meals available” 

– Again, we were not informed of this option 

“concierge services, natural beauty care treatments” 

– If you call the 5 minutes Marina spent with us the evening we arrived “concierge services”, that is misleading 

“2 naturapathic doctors on site” 

– Are Yuri and Marina naturopathic doctors? 

“acupuncturists, herbalist, nutritionist, physical therapist ,massage therapist, cooking classes and surfboards available” 

– Available where? 

“we have installed our outdoor Jacuzzi” 

– True, but it was empty the entire time we were there and by the rust on the metal, it looks like it probably does not work 

My recommendation is to be more honest in your description or actually provide the options you say you have. My 6 Out of 10 rating is very generous and strictly based on the value of what we got for what we paid ($45 a night for a basic room) and I did not deduct for the deceiving description. 

Again, we were not displeased with our stay, only the misleading description. 

As a travel critic I have the duty to report honestly and accurately to my readers and followers and would be doing them a disservice if I omitted the facts I described above. Because this review will be published  on AirBnB and my blog, http://www.CombatCritic.com, I would be remiss if I were not completely honest. I hope you understand. 

Finally, I think you should consider reducing your rate to the $50 per night range as your new $60 rate is probably more than the room is worth. 

Thanks for having us!”

Key Words: Marsana, wellness, beachhouse, spa, AirBnB, hotel, room, beach, Rincón, Aguada, PR, 115, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel, value 

Pasta y Pueblo: An Italian Flare in Puerto Rican Cuisine


Pasta y Pueblo
Luquillo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$

Dining Room – Five (5) Tables
We went to El Junque for the day and stopped in Luquillo to try the famous kiosks, but most were closed on New Years Eve. I searched Yelp nearby and found Pasta y Pueblo, but the map led us on a wild goose chase. I persisted and finally found the place using the photos.

The reviews raved about the food, so expectations were high. The place is literally a shack across from the beach, open air with a stiff breeze coming through the openings where windows should be. With just 5 tables, we had to wait about 45 minutes before being seated.

Scallops and Penne Carbonara ($20)
The young lady who took our name was also our server. My wife ordered the scallops and carbonara ($20.00), six nicely seared scallops marinated in a mild sauce atop a bed of penne carbonara (no egg or onion, but tasty nonetheless). I had the grilled skirt steak also with carbonara ($16.50), about 8 ounces of marinated deliciousness.

They have wine, $6/glass and $25 a bottle, beer and an assortment of soft drinks and juices. I had a generous glass of Spanish Tempranillo with dinner.

Skirt Steak with Penne Carbonara ($16)
For dessert there was room for a shared slice of guava cheesecake, at just $3.50 it was the best value in the menu. Thick and rich, the thin guava topping was just enough to accent the taste without overpowering.

A delightful experience with excellent food, fair prices and superb service, we may very we’ll return before heading West next week.





CombatCritic Gives Pasta y Pueblo 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENO!

Guava Cheesecake ($3.50)



Key Words: combat, CombatCritic, critic, Luquillo, pasta, Pasta y Pueblo, pueblo, steak, scallops, chicken, mussles, wine, beer, puerto, Puerto Rico, rico, TravelValue

Delta Airlines … Is "We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have To" A Thing Of The Past?


Happy Campers
Am I just lucky or is Delta Airlines more user friendly than they used to be? Our recent experience has been nothing but pleasant AND SURPRISING after many years of intercontinental travel and an “I could care less about you because you have no other choice” attitude by the vast majority of airlines. If you have flown in the last 25 years, you know exactly what I am talking about.

It all started when we found a decent airfare for a Christmas trip to Puerto Rico. At $600, more or less, for economy round-trip tickets, we decided that we could afford a few weeks away from the freezing cold and a holiday in the balmy breezes of our tropical Caribbean cousin. 

View From 1st Class … Don’t Get Used To It!
When it came time to choose our seats, I was shocked that the first class cabin was an option, so I jumped on seats 1A and 1B! Woo-hoo … could this be a glitch in Delta’s system or were we really getting “premier” seats for the cost of an economy ticket?

The day before departure, I went online to check-in. A relatively simple process, I had done my homework in advance and resigned myself to the fact that we would be paying $25 per bag for luggage. I heard on National Public Radio just the day before that one airline alone had made BILLION$ this year in baggage and other travel related fees. I never realized how lucrative the airlines add-ons actually were prior to that, so it’s no wonder why they changed the rules just a few short years ago. So when check-in was complete and there was NO $25 FEE for our luggage, I thought I had won the lotto … YIPEEEEEE!

The next surprise came when we arrived at the Kansas City International Airport (they can call it “international” because the apparently have one flight to Canada per day) early on Christmas Eve morning.  Arriving and hour-and-a-half prior to takeoff, there was no line at the Delta counter and we were greeted by a smiling and friendly agent … was I dreaming?

Atlanta, Georgia from 10,00 Feet
Being retired Air Force and having lived overseas for 9 of my 20-year career, I traveled quite extensively by plane and rarely, if ever, encountered a compassionate agent. The best I could normally hope for would be non-committal or neutral attitude and, at worst, an openly hostile and aggressive personality and “we don’t care, we don’t have to” interaction.

The Delta agent was actually quite friendly and helpful, and we breezed right through check-in in less than five minutes. As we approached the security, the TSA Agent told me “you are pre-screened Mr. Sorrentino, please proceed to the gate (without the usual security hassles – shoes/belt off, computer out of the bag, etc.). I never applied for a TSA clearance, so they must have comped me for having had a Top-Secret Clearance and being a retired lieutenant colonel.

All first-class got us on the flight from Kansas City to Atlanta was early boarding, a couple free bloody Marys, and a piece of pound cake. Gone are the days of Mimosas and filet mignons on domestic flights, but hey, who’s to complain!

After much consideration, I think it was just a fluke, one of those times when the planets simply align and everything goes more smoothly than it is supposed to. Deep down inside I hope that the airlines are finally treating us like humans AND WITH JUST A LITTLE DIGNITY AND RESPECT because, after all, WE PAY THEIR DAMN SALARIES … THANKS FOR THE NICE EXPERIENCE DELTA!

CombatCritic Gives Delta Airlines 8 Out of 10 Bombs (On This Trip – 3 Out of 10 Bombs Overall) … Bombs Are Good!






Title: Delta Airlines … Is “We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have To” A Thing Of The Past?

Key Words: Delta, airlines, Delta Airlines, plane, airplane, trip, flight, vacation, customer, first-class, travel, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, combat, critic

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

Gli Ristoranti di Firenze, Italia … The Restaurants of Florence, Italy




Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3R
50122, Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Tel: 39.055.293.045
Prices:  € €  €  
We, literally, stumbled upon Vini e Vecchi Sapori while heading for the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the busiest and most famous square in Florence. The streets in Florence are made of large stones, not so evenly laid and sometimes causing tourists to stumble. I had heard of this restaurant through word of mouth and reviews on Yelp, but was not sure where it was. We almost missed it if not for my clumsy feet, hurling me toward the menu outside the door.

The menu says, in English, “NO PIZZA NO STEAK  NO ICE” and consisted of five to seven each of the antipasti (appetizers), primi (first courses), and secondi (second courses) followed by a few contorni (side dishes) and dolce (desserts). The menu changes each day depending on what the chef feels like cooking and the fresh ingredients available. The choices on our first visit were enticing, so we asked if we could get a reservation that night…WRONG!

Tomaso, the 3o something owner and front man, is thin with Harry Potterish glasses and wavy brown hair. He was extremely nice as he explained that the restaurant was sold out for the next week, so we asked for the first available table, which was seven days away on the following Saturday at 9:00PM (fairly early by Italian standards). We snatched the reservation quicker than turtle tucks his head and waited, and waited, and waited…

When Saturday rolled around, we arrived at the appointed hour and Thomaso greeted me at the door…Signor Sorrentino, welcome! Impressed that he remembered my name after only one encounter, the festivities began. The restaurant is very small in a very old building with tall (18 foot) ceilings and tile floors. Beside the five or six tables, there is only a glass refrigerator case, like you would see in a deli, a small counter, and the door to the bathroom and to the kitchen (different doors). The walls are smothered, but tastefully so, with an eclectic variety of original art and prints, making the small room, I mean restaurant, warm and inviting.

Pappardelle con Ragu di Anatra
The restaurant sits on a short, narrow, quiet street just north of the Piazza della Signoria and has five tables or so, holding about 20 people. It reminds me of my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Palermo, run by my old friend Tony, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily and a warm, wonderful person. When Palermo opened back in the late 1970’s, it was just as small and quaint. Now Palermo is huge and packed every night of the week, a few blocks west of its old location. I hope that the same does not happen to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for it will lose much of its charm.

Paccheri con Fiori di Zucca e Zafferano
Thomaso sat us, then sat with us to explain the night’s menu. My wife’s dear friend Maddalena was with us and we were celebrating her birthday. We had visited Pistoia and Lucca by train that day, and had eaten foccacia con mozzarrella, prosciutto cotto, e carciofi (thin, herb covered bread with mozzarella, cooked ham, and artichoke inside) in Lucca that was larger than expected, so we decided to skip the antipasti and save room for the wonderful selection of primi and secondi. We started with the pappardelle con ragu di anatra (pappardelle are very wide fettucini-type pasta and they were covered in a rich minced duck sauce – €9) and paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano (yellow zucchini flowers and saffron – €8). The papparedelle con ragu di anatra was out of this world, just enough to satiate the palate for the time being, but never to be forgotten.   The paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano was delightfully done in a rich, creamy sauce and the pasta was thick and al dente, just firm enough to hold all of the wonderful sauce. I had never had saffron, a spice used mostly in the Middle East, in an Italian pasta sauce before, but it was creamy and dreamy. I hinted to Thomaso about obtaining the recipe, but will wait until we establish ourselves as regulars to make such a proposition.

Ossobuco con Piselli
Having trouble deciding whether to have the scaloppine alla pizzaiola (similar to veal parmigiana, but much better – €14) or the ossobuco con piselli (veal shank – slow cooked with peas), Thomaso decided for me, it was the ossobuco (€14) and I was not disappointed! The veal shank was cooked to perfection, not huge by American standards, and falling off the bone with a hint of marsala wine sauce. It was delicious, the best ossobuco I have eaten and I have had a few. My wife had the torta ai carciofi (artichoke omelette – €8), but she wolfed it down while I was talking to the couple from Shang Hai at the table next to us, so I did not have the opportunity to get a taste.

 Friends from Shang Hai & Jordon…Tomaso
Our meal was accompanied by a litre of sparkling water (€2) and a litre of Chianti wine (€14), which was dark, rich, and flavorful with hints of berry and chocolate. Being so small, you easily fall into conversation with the table next to you. The first diners were a couple from San Francisco, she a teacher on break, and very nice, he a silicon valley marketing executive, seemingly very impressed with himself and eager to end the conversation. The next couple was from Shang Hai and it turns out that his family was from Glendale, California where I spent much of my childhood and college years, moving to Hacienda Heights after his graduation, where I had spent all of my school years. What a small world! Emma is Chinese, a native of Shanh Hai, and extremely engaging and sweet. The couple on their other side, I thought were from Holland by the accent, turned out to be from Jordon and were equally as warm and engaging. It was one of the most delightful dinners I have experienced in a long time.

Front Door & Tall Ceilings

Finally, the dessert was ordered, while I was talking to Emma about her soon to be baby (due on Christmas day), so I did not have a choice in the matter. We tasted the tiramisu (€5), which was light and refreshing and minus the coffee, which by this time in the evening would probably have kept us awake all night, and the meringato (“big meringue” with cream and chocolate – €5), which was good, but not outstanding.

The bill came to €86, but Thomaso rounded it off to €80 even, so we left a generous tip, which usually is not required in Italy. On the way out we met the chef, Thomaso’s mother, and congratulated her on her wonderful meal, telling “ritorniamo prossima Sabato” (“we will return next Saturday”) and the Saturday after that, and the one after that …


HOOAH … It’s the “BOMB”!



Vini e Vecchi Sapori gets 9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (“bombs” are good) from CombatCritic…my highest rating yet!



Trattoria da Giorgio

Via Palazzuolo 100r, 50123 Firenze 
Tel: 39.055.28.43.02
Fax: 39.055.28.43.02 
Email: info@trattoriadagiorgio.it
http://www.trattoriadagiorgio.it
Prices:  €  € €  

A hidden gem! At €13 for a 3 course, excellent dinner (€12 for lunch), wine and water included, Trattoria da Giorgio is a terrific BARGAIN! 

Diners select from a primo (first course, usually pasta or soup), second (secondo…that wasn’t so hard! – usually a meat dish, but not necessarily), contorno (side dish – vegetables, salad, french fries – accompany the secondo), 1/4 litre of wine or a can of Italian beer, and 1/3 litre of water…ALL INCLUDED IN THE PRICE…NO TAX…SERVICE INCLUDED (although you should always leave a little something extra if the service was good).

Primi
Pasta and risotto dishes are moderate in size, just large enough to allow room for your secondo and maybe a little dessert. The ravioli with butter & salvia (sage, not something to smoke) was perfectly cooker light with a hint of sage and the ravioli slightly al dente as they should be.  The bigoli tartufo nero (thick spaghetti with black truffle cream sauce) were also excellent, thick and rich as you would expect from a truffle sauce. The risotto (rice) with asparagus and radicchio (not, radish, but a red cabbage-type vegetable) was of a perfect consistency and delicious while not overwhelming. The farfalle (butterfly) pasta bolognese (creamy meat sauce originating in Bologna…where else) with peas and mushrooms was outrageous and the pasta, again, cooked to perfection. 

Secondi
On our first visit, my wife and I both had the scallopini al tartufo (pork tenderloin in a cream and black truffle sauce) and it was WONDERFUL!  The pork tenderloins were medium in thickness and the sauce rich and creamy, softening the somewhat stale bread as I sopped-up what was left on my plate…not much! On our second visit, my wife had the prosciutto e melone (thinly sliced, cured (not cooked) ham, usually from Parma and white melon, similar to a cantaloupe in size and consistency, but not quite as sweet). The prosciutto was a bit dry, but delicious and the melon perfectly ripe. I, on the other hand, could not make up my mind between the insalata caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala with freach basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil) or the scallopine marsala (thin veal medallions covered in a rich marsala wine reduction with walnuts). I love caprese and it rarely varies much in Italy, so I went for the scallopine…I was not disappointed! The veal was thin and tender as it should be and the marsala sauce was the best I have had in an Italian restaurant, and I have ordered it in many restaurants all over Italy, thick and rich….YUM! 

Dolce (Desserts)
The tiramisu, €3, was icing on the cake on our first visit, an excellent mixture of mascarpone cheese, savoiardi cookies, coffee, cocoa, sugar, egg, amaretto…and two spoons of course! We tried the pear tort, all desserts are €3, smothered in warm chocolate sauce on our second visit and were not disappointed. The tort was warm and fresh, fresher than the bread unfortunately, and the chocolate sauce equally so, tasty and not overwhelming.

Service
The service on our first visit was excellent and friendly, even though the place was packed (the place seats only around 50 diners at a time) and when the bill (conto) arrived, the extra 1/4 litre of wine we ordered and the service charge (servizio or coperto) were missing, so we left a generous tip. On our second visit, we arrived very early (by Italian standards), around 7:00 PM, and the trattoria was basically empty. The tattoo covered waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and spent more time surfing the internet than taking care of customers. We had to ask the chef for wine and my wife had to get up to get the dessert menu becaise our waiter had mysteriously disappeared. The chef seemed embarrassed by all of this, as he should be, but it really did not detract from our wonderful meal.

Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy

The only other disappointment remains to be the bread, while tasty, is obviously leftover from lunch, possibly yesterday’s.  In any event, we will be returning again over the next month and will add menu items as we go…buon appetito da Giorgio!


Trattoria da Giorgio gets a very respectable 8 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:











Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

La Vinaina Firenze

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  


My wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas in July 2012. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.

Being a chef and food restaurant critic, having traveled to 46 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.


The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!


Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:



Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 


http://www.CombatCritic.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.







CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!



Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

Via dell’Agnolo, 91R
50122 Firenze
Phone:  39 348 8768071
Web: www.trattoriagirasole.it
Email: info@trattoriagirasole.it
Prices:  € € € €  


Bring your fan…it’s hot, and I am not talking about the food. Beside the lack of AC, the pizza was good, although a bit overpriced and the house wine (della casa) not inexpensive (7 Euros/Half litre), but as hot as the room.


We had a pizza with prosciutto, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese (7 Euros) and another with salame piccante (similar to American pepperoni, but much better), mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The salame pizza was very good, reminding me of pizza napolitana (Naples style) and the pizza prosciutto was dry and crisp, not all that great.


The owner told us he is Egyptian and the staff were mostly Eastern European. Considering the heat, and the great amount of sweat emanating from the owner, the service was good, not great. Thankfully, the owner did not bend over our table and our pizza was served senza (without) sweat!

Trattoria Il Girasole gets a very mediocre 4 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:



Osteria Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito, Firenze
Phone: 39 055 2382383
http://www.osteriasantospirito.it/
Prices:  € €  €  

Osteria Santo Spirito is a small osteria with outdoor (covered) patio on the Piazza Santo Spirito, varied menu, and fairly reasonable prices.

The Spezzatino Di Manzo (beef stew) was HUGE and delicious (€15) with big, tender chunks of beef and potatoes in a gravy much like you would find it the US. The gnocchi in salsa di formaggio gorgonzola e tartufo (€10 – cheese and truffle sauce) al forno (baked) was scrumptious and plentiful. The ravioli in cream and walnut sauce looked delicious and was also also huge (€12). The insalata mista (mixed green salad) came in a bowl the size of a cooking pot and was fresh and colorful.

The crostata di mirtilli (blackberry tort) was warm and tasty, and the accompanying caffe Italiano completed the meal nicely. The service was fair and the staff spoke English well. In all it was a nice lunch at moderate prices. Smaller portions and prices are also available on some dishes.

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.













Buon Appetito … A Presto!

"Namaste" … India Palace is a "WELCOME", but Expensive, Delight!


Lawrence, Kansas

India Palace
129 E 10th Street,
Lawrence, KS 66044

Telephone:  785-331-4300

“Namaste … India Palace is a WELCOME”, but Expensive, Delight!


Chutnies Accompany the Meat Samosas (not shown … Oops!
“Namaste” is a term used in India and Nepal as well as many other places around the world.  A customary greeting when individuals meet and a valediction upon their parting, Namaste is the most common form of such a salutation and is considered a non-contact form of salutation.  Namaste actually is formed from two Sanskrit words, “namah”, meaning  “salutation” or “ adoration” and “te”, meaning “you”. When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This gesture, called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasanacan also be performed wordlessly, carrying the same meaning. We were made to feel very welcome on our visit to India Palace.


Sitting a half a block off of Massachusetts Avenue, the hub of activity and the centerpiece of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, India Palace is walking distance from our home and convenient for those shopping downtown.  The décor is basic and the staff friendly and welcoming.  We were greeted immediately as we walked-in, having a reservation for a Friday night which was apparently not necessary as would be the case in most downtown restaurants on a weekend.  Based on our experience, there is only one possible reason for not being busier, a fact I will get to in a bit.  But first, let me talk about the cuisine …

Lamb Rogan Josh with Basmati Rice

I ordered a Fat Tire ($3.00 – 12 ounce mug), one of two draft

beers available on the menu, the other being Boulevard Wheat (also $3.00) and Coke products are available in addition to an assortment of bottled beer and wines.  I started with the meat samosas ($4.95 for two), a blend of ground beef and lamb, lightly seasoned with Indian spices and containing less vegetables than other samosas I have eaten at chow halls around the world.  They were moderate in size, crispy dough outside and hot, flavorful meat inside, accompanied by three sauces, two of them chutneys.  It was one of the better samosas I have had, having eaten in dozens of Indian restaurants stateside and in the United Kingdom where Indian food is a weekly staple.



We ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh ($14.95): tender morsels of lamb cooked in an onion sauce with yogurt, nuts, and a unique blend of spices and coriander; Sag Paneer ($11.95): simmered with fresh spinach cooked with homemade cheese and spices; and Beef Curry ($12.95); succulent pieces of beef cooked in thick curry sauce with herbs, all accompanied by large servings of bismati (white) rice.  I asked the server if they had pilau rice, my favorite, a kind of Indian fried rice with peas, onions, and other vegetables and spices, much more flavorful than the bismati rice we received, but unnecessary because the rice is quickly covered with the entrees when consumed.


Beef Curry with Onion Nan
All entrees and the bismati rice are served in small copper pots, piping hot from the kitchen and easily shared amongst our table.  The lamb rogan josh came with medium size chunks of tender lamb in a medium-thick, creamy and mildly spicy red sauce which was delicious.  At $14.95 for entrée with rice, I would expect more food, but would recommend lowering the price instead because the serving is more than enough for one person.  I have seen entrees that size and quality in the $8-$12 range at other restaurants, so maybe that explains why India Palace was not busier on a Friday night.  It is a shame because so many restaurants, including India Palace, try to generate profits by raising prices instead of providing quality food at a reasonable price or through competitive marketing (e.g. Social media, coupons – Groupon).  In a college town like Lawrence, you are not going to generate much business by charging $10–$15 for entrees (ala carte) and that seems to be the case at India Palace.

The sag paneer is a thick, spicy, creamed spinach concoction with chunks of Indian cheese and was mild enough for my Italian wife who cannot handle spicy dishes.  Slightly sweet, yet spicy, it was one of the better sag paneers we have tried in recent memory, but again, at $10.95, slightly overpriced based on the inexpensive ingredients.  The majority of India is vegetarian and I am a carnivore, but Indian chefs use exotic spices such as curry and coriander so well that I do not even miss the meat!  The beef curry was also a bit pricey at $12.95, yet rich and delicious.  As a comparison, I recently had a wonderful beef Massaman curry at Zen Zero, a Thai restaurant down the street from India Palace on Massachusetts, including jasmine rice for just $7.69 … $5.26 less than my curry at India Palace!

Sag Paneer with Nan

The lunch buffet may be a better value, but unsure of the price, I will have to get back to you on that one.  I absolutely love butter chicken, rich, creamy boneless chicken chunks cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, and a touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices, also served with rice and the server indicated that it is sometimes on the buffet (it is on the menu).  Delightful staff, we felt very welcome during our entire meal, and the food was some of the best Indian I have had, and that is “a lot”.  Unfortunately, our bill totaled $75 including tip, $25 per head and not an inexpensive proposition.  Considring the fact that there are two fast-food Indian restaurants within a few blocks either way on Mass, India Palace should seriously condor lowering their prices and focusing on “value” by utilizing coupons and Groupons to drawn 30,000 hungry students.


CombatCritic Gives India Palace 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Bombs Are GOOD!
India Palace on Urbanspoon

Key Words: India, Palace, Indian, food, cuisine, eat, curry, samosa, nan, rice, rogan, josh, vindaloo, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, combat, critic, twitter, Facebook

Rancho Grande Cantina – Parkville, Missouri … UPDATE


Rancho Grande Cantina – June 2013 UPDATE


Price: $$$$$ – All entrees below $15

(816) 505-9097
11015 NW Hwy 45
Parkville,MO 64152

Rancho Grande in Parkville is a weekly staple in our house. Yes, of course it is Americanized Mexican, but we are in America after all. If you have a craving for inexpensive, quality food, this USED TO BE THE PLACE. I have been a customer for five years and have continued to go back week after week, but that could soon change!

You would think that customers who come back week after week after week, particularly ones who have a restaurant and food blog, would be known by name, perhaps greeted with more than indifference, but that is not the case at Rancho Grande Cantina.

The food is good, normally consistent, but that has changed recently.  For example, on their “Fajita Special” night a few months back, I sat in the bar and had some of the worst service in recent memory. On the back of many employee’s shirts is the phrase “I know Joe”, referring to the alleged owner, a guy named “Joe” apparently. Well, Joe was sitting in the bar with several of his cronies and my waiter seemed more focused on making Joe happy than any of his customers.  Joe and his pals were knocking back the beers while I sat, and sat, and sat, and waited for my appetizer, then dinner, when my waiter was more interested in making sure Joe and his pals were supplied with cold beer than taking care of his customers.  

The fajitas, although discounted $3.oo, were more than 30% less than their normal portion AND BURNT. I could not get my waiters attention long enough to convey my displeasure because of his infatuation with Joe, so I went home and conveyed my displeasure via Yelp and Foursquare.  I was being lazy.

Cinco de Mayo, to my displeasure, was an extremely busy night on a normally quiet Sunday, our normal Rancho Grande evening.  The hostess told us our wait would be 30  minutes, but we ended up waiting over an hour. When I saw that we were next on the list for a table, we went to the front and waited next to the hostess, thinking we would have a table in a few minutes.  A party of eight was seated before us even though they fell after us on the list, but that is not irregular.  What was irregular was the party of two, plus a child, that got our table because they were “friends’ of the hostess.  I saw the man conversing with employees earlier, so I knew that he was either an employee or a friend of staff.  So when he and his family were seated, at our table, without being on “the list”, I was unhappy, but because of the mass confusion, I kept my mouth shut.

Our server did not greet us for close to ten minutes after being seated and when we ordered, we let her know that my wife’s quesadilla was cold last time she ordered it, asking her to please ensure that it was properly heated this evening. When it arrived, 30 minutes later, it was luke-warm. The young woman that dropped-off the plates ignored our pleas for assistance, pretending that she did not hear us as we attempted to point out the chill on the quesadilla.  Taking several minutes to get the attention of our server, we finally let her know that the meal was cold and finally received our complete meals ten minutes later.

All the while, Joe, whom we still do not know after five years of weekly visits, was sucking down a beer by the bar, ignoring his customers and the horrible service we were receiving.

We have spent literally thousands of dollars at Rancho Grande in the five years we have lived in Kansas City.  I enjoy the food and some of the servers recognize us although none even have any idea what our names are.  I would expect a little more of a business whose business is customer service, but customer service seems to be a thing of the past, so why should I be disappointed?


As I said, even though we eat there very week, most of the staff barely recognize us and hardly anybody has any idea what our names are.  Temira, a native-American server with a Hebrew name (meaning “tall”), is one of the few servers that bothers to give us the time of day.  She is very pretty and kind, giving personalized service where most of her peers fail.  A personality … what a concept … thank you Temira!  I would like to personally tell Temira how much I appreciate her personalized attention, but the restaurant is not amenable to such conversations.  Fell free to send me a message Temira … SEND ME A MESSAGE

Having been dedicated and consistent customers for five years, I would expect more from a restaurant where we literally spend thousands of dollars a year.  There are a few servers , like Temira, that stop to say hello, but the busboys know us better than any of them, making sure to bring the “hot” salsa when we arrive.  If the rest of the staff were as attentive as they are, we would feel like royalty, a not so terrible thing considering our loyalty to the establishment.

Joe, whom I still do not know, even though I have been eating at his restaurant every week for five years, should be ashamed for his apathy toward guests and his propensity to suck down beers rather than  ensure his customers get the service and quality we deserve. I do not expect, nor would I accept, special treatment because I am a food critic.  But I am a paying customer and would expect that our loyalty to his business would at least be appreciated, something we have not felt in five years of eating at Rancho Grande. The manager, a nice woman who knows us by face and that I have a food and travel blog, does not even know our names … after five years … every Sunday for five years … can you believe that?  Maybe it is time to find a proprietor and restaurant that appreciates our hard earned money and loyalty.


In all, Rancho Grande in Parkville WAS an excellent choice for quality American-Mexican food with large portions at a reasonable price, but if you want to be appreciated … go elsewhere!  Jalisco is a new Mexican restaurant is the Parkville area, see my Jalisco Mexican Restaurant Review, and while the food is not quite as good as Rancho Grande, you feel welcome when you walk through the door.


CombatCritic gives Rancho Grande Cantina in Parkville 6 (used to be 7) Out of 10 BOMBS … Bombs are good!


11015 NW Mo-45
Kansas CityMO 64152 

Map

Rancho Grande Cantina on Urbanspoon

Key Words: 64152, CombatCritic, critic, eat, eating, kansas city, mexican food, missouri, MO, Parkville, rancho grande cantina, restaurant, Restaurants, Review, Review Kansas City Restaurants, reviews, Temira, Mexican, food

On the Border … Surprisingly Good for a Chain!


On The Border – Barry Rd.

8340 NW Roanridge Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64151

Website: OnTheBorder.com
Phone: 816-759-2270
Price: $$$$$

I usually do not review chain restaurants, but I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to On The Border, a Mexican restaurant chain found many places across the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

Jalisco: Sports Bar or Mexican Restaurant … Maybe Both?


Jalisco Mexican Restaurant (CLOSED)

Category: Mexican
7749 NW Prairie View Rd
Kansas CityMO 64152

(816) 587-0899

Jalisco is more like a sports bar than a Mexican restaurant with TVs everywhere you look.  The decor is new, plain, and cheap, but the colors are pleasant and, most important, the restaurant is clean!


The food is good in general, starting with the guacamole which is fresh and tasty at $4.00 for a medium size serving. The cheese dip, also $4.00 is also tasty and same size as the guacamole.  Margarites are also $4.00, not bad, but on the small side and with NOT MUCH PUNCH if you know what I mean


The first time I visited, shortly after their opening a few months back, I had the carnitas (slow cooked chunks of pork) and the was tender and plentiful.  Served with tortillas, pico di gallo, rice, and beans, a serving of guacamole would have been nice and is always a welcome accompaniment to the tender pork delights.


My wife had the cheese quesadilla, also very good although a bit pricey at $7.50 for a couple flour tortillas and some cheese.  I went for the taco special yesterday, having three beef tacos with rice and beans for $6.99.  I was disappointed in the taco shells, looking like the prefab variety you get at the supermarket.  The tacos only came with white cheese and lettuce, no tomato or pico di gallo, a necessity when eating tacos as far as I am concerned.  All three of the tacos broke in half upon first bite, so I had quite a mess on my hands … literally!


The service is good, the salsa fresh, and tortilla chips warm.  Do not forget to ask for the “HOT” sauce, a tomatillo variety with more kick than the standard, but not extremely hot.







CombatCritic gives Jalisco 6 BOMBS out of 10 with room to grow as they mature and we try new, hopefully more impressive, dishes … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Jalisco Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Title:  Sports Bar or Mexican Restaurant … Maybe Both?


Key Words: chips, salsa, Kansas, City, combat, CombatCritic, critic, eat, enchilida, food, Jalisco, Kansas, Mexican, Northland, Platte, restaurant, salsa, taco, urbanspoon, Woods, Yelp

UPDATE: Rancho Grande Cantina (Parkville, MO) … Disappointing!


Rancho Grande Cantina UPDATE


Price: $$$$$ – All entrees below $15

(816) 505-9097
11015 NW Hwy 45
Parkville,MO 64152
Rancho Grande in Parkville is a weekly staple in our house. Yes, of course it is Americanized Mexican, but we are in America after all. If you have a craving for inexpensive, quality food, this USED TO BE THE PLACE. I have been a customer for five years and have continued to go back week after week, but that could soon change!

You would think that customers who come back week after week after week, particularly ones who have a restaurant and food blog, would be known by name, perhaps greeted with more than indifference, but that is not the case at Rancho Grande Cantina.

The food is good, normally consistent, but that has changed recently.  For example, on their “Fajita Special” night a few months back, I sat in the bar and had some of the worst service in recent memory. On the back of many employee’s shirts is the phrase “I know Joe”, referring to the alleged owner, a guy named “Joe” apparently. Well, Joe was sitting in the bar with several of his cronies and my waiter seemed more focused on making Joe happy than any of his customers.  Joe and his pals were knocking back the beers while I sat, and sat, and sat, and waited for my appetizer, then dinner, when my waiter was more interested in making sure Joe and his pals were supplied with cold beer than taking care of his customers.  

The fajitas, although discounted $3.oo, were more than 30% less than their normal portion AND BURNT. I could not get my waiters attention long enough to convey my displeasure because of his infatuation with Joe, so I went home and conveyed my displeasure via Yelp and Foursquare.  I was being lazy.

Today is Cinco de Mayo and, to my displeasure, an extremely busy night on a normally quiet Sunday, our normal Rancho Grande evening.  The hostess told us our wait would be 30  minutes, but we ended up waiting over an hour. When I saw that we were next on the list for a table, we went to the front and waited next to the hostess, thinking we would have a table in a few minutes.  A party of eight was seated before us even though they fell after us on the list, but that is not irregular.  What was irregular was the party of two, plus a child, that got our table because they were “friends’ of the hostess.  I saw the man conversing with employees earlier, so I knew that he was either an employee or a friend of staff.  So when he and his family were seated, at our table, without being on “the list”, I was unhappy, but because of the mass confusion, I kept my mouth shut.

Our server did not greet us for close to ten minutes after being seated and when we ordered, we let her know that my wife’s quesadilla was cold last time she ordered it, asking her to please ensure that it was properly heated this evening. When it arrived, 30 minutes later, it was luke-warm. The young woman that dropped-off the plates ignored our pleas for assistance, pretending that she did not hear us as we attempted to point out the chill on the quesadilla.  Taking several minutes to get the attention of our server, we finally let her know that the meal was cold and finally received our complete meals ten minutes later.

All the while, Joe, whom we still do not know after five years of weekly visits, was sucking down a beer by the bar, ignoring his customers and the horrible service we were receiving.

We have spent literally thousands of dollars at Rancho Grande in the five years we have lived in Kansas City.  I enjoy the food and some of the servers recognize us although none even have any idea what our names are.  I would expect a little more of a business whose business is customer service, but customer service seems to be a thing of the past, so why should I be disappointed?

Joe, whom I still do not know, even though I have been eating at his restaurant every week for five years, should be ashamed for his apathy toward guests and his propensity to suck down beers rather than  ensure his customers get the service and quality we deserve. I do not expect, nor would I accept, special treatment because I am a food critic.  But I am a paying customer and would expect that our loyalty to his business would at least be appreciated, something we have not felt in five years of eating at Rancho Grande. Maybe it is time to find a proprietor and restaurant that appreciates our hard earned money and loyalty.

In all, Rancho Grande in Parkville WAS an excellent choice for quality American-Mexican food with large portions at a reasonable price, but if you want to be appreciated … go elsewhere!


CombatCritic gives Rancho Grande Cantina in Parkville 5 (used to be 7) out of 10 BOMBS. Bombs are good!



11015 NW Mo-45
Kansas CityMO 64152 

Map

Rancho Grande Cantina on Urbanspoon

I Ristoranti di Firenze…The Restaurants of Florence, Italy



Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3R
50122, Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Tel: 39.055.293.045
Prices:  € €  €  
We, literally, stumbled upon Vini e Vecchi Sapori while heading for the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the busiest and most famous square in Florence. The streets in Florence are made of large stones, not so evenly laid and sometimes causing tourists to stumble. I had heard of this restaurant through word of mouth and reviews on Yelp, but was not sure where it was. We almost missed it if not for my clumsy feet, hurling me toward the menu outside the door.
The menu says, in English, “NO PIZZA NO STEAK  NO ICE” and consisted of five to seven each of the antipasti (appetizers), primi (first courses), and secondi (second courses) followed by a few contorni (side dishes) and dolce (desserts). The menu changes each day depending on what the chef feels like cooking and the fresh ingredients available. The choices on our first visit were enticing, so we asked if we could get a reservation that night…WRONG!
Thomaso, the 3o something owner and front man, is thin with Harry Potterish glasses and wavy brown hair. He was extremely nice as he explained that the restaurant was sold out for the next week, so we asked for the first available table, which was seven days away on the following Saturday at 9:00PM (fairly early by Italian standards). We snatched the reservation quicker than turtle tucks his head and waited, and waited, and waited…
When Saturday rolled around, we arrived at the appointed hour and Thomaso greeted me at the door…Signor Sorrentino, welcome! Impressed that he remembered my name after only one encounter, the festivities began. The restaurant is very small in a very old building with tall (18 foot) ceilings and tile floors. Beside the five or six tables, there is only a glass refrigerator case, like you would see in a deli, a small counter, and the door to the bathroom and to the kitchen (different doors). The walls are smothered, but tastefully so, with an eclectic variety of original art and prints, making the small room, I mean restaurant, warm and inviting.
pappardelle con ragu di anatra
The restaurant sits on a short, narrow, quiet street just north of the Piazza della Signoria and has five tables or so, holding about 20 people. It reminds me of my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Palermo, run by my old friend Tony, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily and a warm, wonderful person. When Palermo opened back in the late 1970’s, it was just as small and quaint. Now Palermo is huge and packed every night of the week, a few blocks west of its old location. I hope that the same does not happen to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for it will lose much of its charm.
paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano
Thomaso sat us, then sat with us to explain the night’s menu. My wife’s dear friend Maddalena was with us and we were celebrating her birthday. We had visited Pistoia and Lucca by train that day, and had eaten foccacia con mozzarrella, prosciutto cotto, e carciofi (thin, herb covered bread with mozzarella, cooked ham, and artichoke inside) in Lucca that was larger than expected, so we decided to skip the antipasti and save room for the wonderful selection of primi and secondi. We started with the pappardelle con ragu di anatra (pappardelle are very wide fettucini-type pasta and they were covered in a rich minced duck sauce – €9) and paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano (yellow zucchini flowers and saffron – €8). The papparedelle con ragu di anatra was out of this world, just enough to satiate the palate for the time being, but never to be forgotten.   The paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano was delightfully done in a rich, creamy sauce and the pasta was thick and al dente, just firm enough to hold all of the wonderful sauce. I had never had saffron, a spice used mostly in the Middle East, in an Italian pasta sauce before, but it was creamy and dreamy. I hinted to Thomaso about obtaining the recipe, but will wait until we establish ourselves as regulars to make such a proposition.

ossobuco con piselli
Having trouble deciding whether to have the scaloppine alla pizzaiola (similar to veal parmigiana, but much better – €14) or the ossobuco con piselli (veal shank – slow cooked with peas), Thomaso decided for me, it was the ossobuco (€14) and I was not disappointed! The veal shank was cooked to perfection, not huge by American standards, and falling off the bone with a hint of marsala wine sauce. It was delicious, the best ossobuco I have eaten and I have had a few. My wife had the torta ai carciofi (artichoke omelette – €8), but she wolfed it down while I was talking to the couple from Shang Hai at the table next to us, so I did not have the opportunity to get a taste.
 Friends from Shang Hai & Jordon…Thomaso (back)
Our meal was accompanied by a litre of sparkling water (€2) and a litre of Chianti wine (€14), which was dark, rich, and flavorful with hints of berry and chocolate. Being so small, you easily fall into conversation with the table next to you. The first diners were a couple from San Francisco, she a teacher on break, and very nice, he a silicon valley marketing executive, seemingly very impressed with himself and eager to end the conversation. The next couple was from Shang Hai and it turns out that his family was from Glendale, California where I spent much of my childhood and college years, moving to Hacienda Heights after his graduation, where I had spent all of my school years. What a small world! Emma is Chinese, a native of Shanh Hai, and extremely engaging and sweet. The couple on their other side, I thought were from Holland by the accent, turned out to be from Jordon and were equally as warm and engaging. It was one of the most delightful dinners I have experienced in a long time.
Front Door & Tall Ceilings

Finally, the dessert was ordered, while I was talking to Emma about her soon to be baby (due on Christmas day), so I did not have a choice in the matter. We tasted the tiramisu (€5), which was light and refreshing and minus the coffee, which by this time in the evening would probably have kept us awake all night, and the meringato (“big meringue” with cream and chocolate – €5), which was good, but not outstanding.

The bill came to €86, but Thomaso rounded it off to €80 even, so we left a generous tip, which usually is not required in Italy. On the way out we met the chef, Thomaso’s mother, and congratulated her on her wonderful meal, telling “ritorniamo prossima Sabato” (“we will return next Saturday”) and the Saturday after that, and the one after that…

HOOAH…it’s the “BOMB”!


Vini e Vecchi Sapori gets 9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (“bombs” are good) from CombatCritic…my highest rating yet!


Trattoria da Giorgio

Via Palazzuolo 100r, 50123 Firenze 
Tel: 39.055.28.43.02
Fax: 39.055.28.43.02 
Email: info@trattoriadagiorgio.it
http://www.trattoriadagiorgio.it
Prices:  €  € €  

A hidden gem! At €13 for a 3 course, excellent dinner (€12 for lunch), wine and water included, Trattoria da Giorgio is a terrific BARGAIN! 

Diners select from a primo (first course, usually pasta or soup), second (secondo…that wasn’t so hard! – usually a meat dish, but not necessarily), contorno (side dish – vegetables, salad, french fries – accompany the secondo), 1/4 litre of wine or a can of Italian beer, and 1/3 litre of water…ALL INCLUDED IN THE PRICE…NO TAX…SERVICE INCLUDED (although you should always leave a little something extra if the service was good).

Primi
Pasta and risotto dishes are moderate in size, just large enough to allow room for your secondo and maybe a little dessert. The ravioli with butter & salvia (sage, not something to smoke) was perfectly cooker light with a hint of sage and the ravioli slightly al dente as they should be.  The bigoli tartufo nero (thick spaghetti with black truffle cream sauce) were also excellent, thick and rich as you would expect from a truffle sauce. The risotto (rice) with asparagus and radicchio (not, radish, but a red cabbage-type vegetable) was of a perfect consistency and delicious while not overwhelming. The farfalle (butterfly) pasta bolognese (creamy meat sauce originating in Bologna…where else) with peas and mushrooms was outrageous and the pasta, again, cooked to perfection. 

Secondi
On our first visit, my wife and I both had the scallopini al tartufo (pork tenderloin in a cream and black truffle sauce) and it was WONDERFUL!  The pork tenderloins were medium in thickness and the sauce rich and creamy, softening the somewhat stale bread as I sopped-up what was left on my plate…not much! On our second visit, my wife had the prosciutto e melone (thinly sliced, cured (not cooked) ham, usually from Parma and white melon, similar to a cantaloupe in size and consistency, but not quite as sweet). The prosciutto was a bit dry, but delicious and the melon perfectly ripe. I, on the other hand, could not make up my mind between the insalata caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala with freach basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil) or the scallopine marsala (thin veal medallions covered in a rich marsala wine reduction with walnuts). I love caprese and it rarely varies much in Italy, so I went for the scallopine…I was not disappointed! The veal was thin and tender as it should be and the marsala sauce was the best I have had in an Italian restaurant, and I have ordered it in many restaurants all over Italy, thick and rich….YUM! 

Dolce (Desserts)
The tiramisu, €3, was icing on the cake on our first visit, an excellent mixture of mascarpone cheese, savoiardi cookies, coffee, cocoa, sugar, egg, amaretto…and two spoons of course! We tried the pear tort, all desserts are €3, smothered in warm chocolate sauce on our second visit and were not disappointed. The tort was warm and fresh, fresher than the bread unfortunately, and the chocolate sauce equally so, tasty and not overwhelming.

Service
The service on our first visit was excellent and friendly, even though the place was packed (the place seats only around 50 diners at a time) and when the bill (conto) arrived, the extra 1/4 litre of wine we ordered and the service charge (servizio or coperto) were missing, so we left a generous tip. On our second visit, we arrived very early (by Italian standards), around 7:00 PM, and the trattoria was basically empty. The tattoo covered waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and spent more time surfing the internet than taking care of customers. We had to ask the chef for wine and my wife had to get up to get the dessert menu becaise our waiter had mysteriously disappeared. The chef seemed embarrassed by all of this, as he should be, but it really did not detract from our wonderful meal.

The only other disappointment remains to be the bread, while tasty, is obviously leftover from lunch, possibly yesterday’s.  In any event, we will be returning again over the next month and will add menu items as we go…buon appetito da Giorgio!
Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy
Trattoria da Giorgio gets a very respectable 8 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:






Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

La Vinaina Firenze

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  


My wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas in July 2012. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.
Being a chef and food restaurant critic, having traveled to 46 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.

The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!

Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:

Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 

http://www.CombatCritic.blogspot.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.






CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!


Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

Via dell’Agnolo, 91R
50122 Firenze
Phone:  39 348 8768071
Web: www.trattoriagirasole.it
Email: info@trattoriagirasole.it
Prices:  € € € €  


Bring your fan…it’s hot, and I am not talking about the food. Beside the lack of AC, the pizza was good, although a bit overpriced and the house wine (della casa) not inexpensive (7 Euros/Half litre), but as hot as the room.

We had a pizza with prosciutto, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese (7 Euros) and another with salame piccante (similar to American pepperoni, but much better), mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The salame pizza was very good, reminding me of pizza napolitana (Naples style) and the pizza prosciutto was dry and crisp, not all that great.

The owner told us he is Egyptian and the staff were mostly Eastern European. Considering the heat, and the great amount of sweat emanating from the owner, the service was good, not great. Thankfully, the owner did not bend over our table and our pizza was served senza (without) sweat!

Trattoria Il Girasole gets a very mediocre 4 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:




Osteria Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito, Firenze
Phone: 39 055 2382383
http://www.osteriasantospirito.it/
Prices:  € €  €  

Osteria Santo Spirito is a small osteria with outdoor (covered) patio on the Piazza Santo Spirito, varied menu, and fairly reasonable prices.

The Spezzatino Di Manzo (beef stew) was HUGE and delicious (€15) with big, tender chunks of beef and potatoes in a gravy much like you would find it the US. The gnocchi in salsa di formaggio gorgonzola e tartufo (€10 – cheese and truffle sauce) al forno (baked) was scrumptious and plentiful. The ravioli in cream and walnut sauce looked delicious and was also also huge (€12). The insalata mista (mixed green salad) came in a bowl the size of a cooking pot and was fresh and colorful.

The crostata di mirtilli (blackberry tort) was warm and tasty, and the accompanying caffe Italiano completed the meal nicely. The service was fair and the staff spoke English well. In all it was a nice lunch at moderate prices. Smaller portions and prices are also available on some dishes.

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.







Buon Appetito…A Presto!

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