CombatCritic’s Favorite Recipes: Spaghetti Bolognese


Ingredients: 

1 lb Ground Organic Grass-Fed Beef
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
1 Medium Organic Onion – Finely Chopped
1 Medium Organic Carrot – Finely Chopped
2 Oraganic Celery Stalks – Finely Chopped
1 1/2 Cups Organic Beef Stock
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/2 Cup Pomi Tomato Sauce
1/2 Cup Organic Milk 
Salt and Black Ground Pepper
1/2 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano – Grated
1 lb Spaghetti

Directions:

Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in a 6 quart stock pot or Dutch oven using half of the EVOO until soft, not burnt. Add the ground beef and mash with a potato masher or fork, adding salt and pepper and cooking until browned (no pink).

Add the beef stock, wine and tomato sauce, bringing to a boil then reducing to a simmer (low heat) for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil enough water in a tall 16 quart pot so that the spaghetti, when added, is completely submerged, adding a teaspoon of salt and some EVOO. Add the spaghetti once the water comes to a full boil, following the package cooking directions and tasting until spaghetti is “al dente” (a bit firm, not chewy and not mushy).

Five minutes before spaghetti is done, add the milk (no cream) to the sauce and continue simmering. Drain the spaghetti when done, ensuring no excess water remains. Return the spaghetti to the 16 court pot, pouring all of the sauce over the spaghetti and tossing until the spaghetti is well coated with sauce. Add half of the parmigiano (parmesan cheese) to the pasta and continue to toss until well mixed.

Serve immediately and sprinkle additional grated cheese to individual taste.

Serves 4-6

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

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Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic
View my food journey on Zomato!



Title: CombatCritic’s Favorite Recipes: Spaghetti Bolognese

Key Words: Bologna, Bolognese, parmigiano, pasta, Reggiano, spaghetti, recipe, favorite, Pomi, tomato, sauce, Italian, Italy, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog
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Kansas City, MO: Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey – Garozzo’s Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-S0)


Garozzo’s Ristorante 
(Downtown)

526 Harrison Street
Kansas City, MO 64106
Phone: (816) 221-2455
Website: garozzos.com
Prices: $$$$


First, let me apologize for the quality of the photos in this post. Garozzo’s is so dark there was not enough light to take a photo without a flash or the external light source I normally use and I did not want to disturb our fellow diners so that I could take a decent photo … sorry!

We have been to Garozzo’s several times, but this was the first in about four years and since I started this blog. The food was always good, a bit pricey, but solid Italian food in a nice, but too dark and pretentious atmosphere. I say pretentious because the food screams “mom and pop” Italian restaurant, not upscale, fancy shmancy with servers (mostly waiters) dressed to the nines and with attitudes to match. 
This visit was no different. Good food, a room too dark to read the menu, a table too small to hold our food and drinks, and a waiter that was courteous, but all business, and a bit too eager to get rid of us and earn some extra tips. When you drop a C-note for dinner for two, you should not be rushed through your meal. We were.

I will not use the server’s name, but we were quickly welcomed, being the first diners at 5:30pm on a Tuesday after attending the closing for the sale of our home and celebrating with a nice dinner out. My wife and I were talking, but the server seemed eager to take our order, interrupting our conversation to ask what we wanted to drink. I asked for water and a bottle of their house cabernet sauvignon ($24).

After bringing our drinks, again interrupting our conversation, I ordered a stuffed artichoke as an appetizer (antipasto) and for entrees my wife requested the Tortelloni Gina and I the Veal Parmigiana. I asked the server if the dinners came with salad and pasta (in my case) as I seemed to remember salad coming with the entrees the last time we were there. I was either wrong or they had changed their policies because the server told me that a salad was “an additional $4”. The veal did come with a “small serving of pasta with Maggie’s Sugo” I was told.

My wife and I returned to our conversation, but about five minutes later I realized that we had not ordered our salads, my mistake, so I asked my wife to get our server’s attention, which she quickly did. I said, “I’m sorry, but we forgot to order salads”, to which he replied, “well, I already put you dinner orders in, but I can take care of that with the kitchen”. My wife ordered the Insalata Caesar ($4) and I the Insalata Santa Teresa ($4).

The cabernet was actually quite good, from a California winery they prominently feature on their wine list. The artichoke ($10), stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs, steamed, and topped with garlic butter, quickly arrived and we dug right in. My grandmother used to make similar stuffed artichokes, except she used olive oil instead of butter and added small chunks of salami, but these were very good with tasty stuffing and large tender leaves. We were not even halfway through eating our artichoke when our server arrived with our salads. As a former waiter myself, there is nothing that pisses me off more than a server who brings the next course when we have not even finished the last, but I bit my tongue because it really did not matter that much because the salads were not going to get cold while sitting on the table, which they did for another 10-15 minutes while we finished our antipasto. The table, by the way, was so small (like all of the tables for two) that the server had difficulty finding space for our premature salads.


My wife then started eating her Caesar salad, waiting for her favorite part, the heart, while I polished off the last few leaves of the artichoke. She finished her salad, which she said was “nothing special”, in the interim and I, after the server cleared a few plates, then started eating mine. About halfway through my salad, which was good, with Romaine lettuce, red onion, chunks of goat cheese, Dijon vinaigrette, and topped with sliced roasted red peppers, but unremarkable, the server arrived with my wife’s Tortelloni Gina. That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, so I asked our server: “Are we in a hurry?”, to which he replied, “oh, I’m sorry, let me take that away”. I proceeded to finish my salad.
Hovering, waiting for me to finish, when the server saw my salad plate was empty, he quickly swept the plate away and returned a few minutes later with our entrees. My wife’s Tortelloni Gina ($19) was filled with chicken and prosciutto, and served in a very traditional creamy Alfredo sauce with mushrooms and peas. It was hot, very large, extremely rich, and my wife, who was born in Italy, enjoyed it very much. Bravo! The server had tried to sway me away from the Veal Parmigiano (veal parmesan to you Olive Garden lovers), recommending the Vitello Spiedini Sophia Marie ($27) instead. Because I have had every other veal dish at Garozzo’s, including the veal Sophia Maria and Saltimbocca ($27), which are both excellent by the way, I wanted to try the Vitello Parmigiana ($24), my failsafe in Italian restaurants and a good indicator of the quality of an Italian-American kitchen (you will not find veal parmigiano in Italy unless the restaurant caters to Americans).
The veal was lukewarm at best, with three very small medallions topped with the house red sauce and fontina cheese, a bit odd as “parmigiana” is usually topped with mozzarella, baked or broiled, and sprinkled with parmigiana (parmesan cheese), hence the name. The sauce was very good in comparison to most stateside Italian restaurants, but the dish would have been much better had it been served hot, warm even, and with a bit more veal. The accompanying pasta was negligible and obviously came out of a bag or box. At $24 for just an entree, $30 including salad, it would have been a poor value, even if it had been served at the appropriate temperature.

I understand that it was my mistake, asking for salads five minutes after our order was taken, but our server said he would “take care of it”, as he should have. There is no excuse for bringing multiple or mixed courses, particularly in an “upscale” restaurant such as Garozzo’s. There is also no excuse for serving a $24 veal dish cold, no matter what the circumstances.

I like the place in general, but Garozzo’s would be much better if they dropped the pretenses, brought up the lights, bought some bigger tables, and lowered the prices a tad. I also believe that customers should NEVER be rushed, especially when they are paying $50 a head and up for a meal.

CombatCritic Gives Garozzo’s Ristorante 5 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For Unprofessional Service, Cold Food, Darkness, Small Tables, And Questionable Value … More Bombs Are Better!

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Garozzo's Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Title: Kansas City, MO: Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey – Garozzo’s Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-S0)

Key Words: Garozzo’s, Garozzo, Italian, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Missouri, CombatCritic, Italy, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, ristorante, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = “Continue Mission”

Yachats, OR: Her Name May Be Swiss, But Heidi Can Cook Italian … BRAVO!


Heidi’s Italian Dinners
84 Beach Street
Yachats, OR 97498
Phone: (541) 547-4409
Facebook Page: Heidi’s Italian Dinners

Prices: $$$$

Not a rousing welcome to begin with, I’ll spare you the details, but the evening rallied on and I was a fan by night’s end. Heidi’s is a cute, but somewhat nondescript building inside with a nice garden that happens to overlook the Yachats River Estuary, adjoining the massive and majestic Pacific Ocean.

I stopped by on Tuesday, but they were closed, seeing a woman I suspected was Heidi watering the plants, She was friendly and helpful, but obviously had better things to do than chat with me. I made a reservation for the following evening.

I had a table next to the window with a partial view of the estuary and ocean less than 100 yards away. Everyone was friendly enough, but matter of fact with little interaction. I ordered the Caesar Salad ($4) the Lasagna ($17), and a bottle of local IPA ($4.50).
The Caesar was proceeded by an array of garlic bread slices and grilled polenta on which to nosh. The salad was of medium size and well done with three croutons scattered about. I saved some of the polenta and garlic bread, utilizing it on the salad and adding a bit of texture to the dish once the croutons were toast.
The lasagna was the coup de grâce. Heidi obviously comes from Italian descent because this was as good as any homemade lasagna I have had, including my mom’s (sorry mom) and my grandma’s among several others. When there is no need to add grated parmigiana (parmesan to Americans) to a pasta dish, it is properly made. Not large for the $17 price tag by any stretch, even though delicious, it would have been a better value in the $10-$13 range (taking the location and view into account) or $14-$17 if the salad were included.


CombatCritic Gives Heidi’s Italian Dinners 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … Mor eBombs Are Better!

Seven Bombs Equates To:

Heidi’s Italian Dinners
Heidi's Italian Dinners
Read Reviews By CombatCritic:


Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Yachats, OR: Her Name May Be Swiss, But Heidi Can Cook Italian … BRAVO!

Key Words: Heidi’s Italian Dinners, Heidi, Heidi’s, Italian, dinners, Yachats, OR, Oregon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, lasagna, pasta, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: S&G = “Shits & Grins”


Brooklyn, NY: A CombatCritic BestValue … This Brooklyn Ristorante Is Well Worth A Visit!


Cataldo’s Restaurant
554 Vanderbilt Avenue, Suite 1
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Between Dean Street and Atlantic Avenue
Prospect Heights
Phone: (718) 857-6700
No Website?
Prices: $$$$

We finally found a good, reasonably priced mom and pop Italian restaurant in the NYC metro and the name is Cataldo’s!
After searching the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn and on Yelp for a week looking for a good value, I stumbled upon Cataldo’s. It looked promising because one of the featured photos was of a delicious stuffed artichoke (below – $12) just like my grandma used to make … YUM! Unfortunately, they were out when we arrived and were not expecting a produce delivery for two days … DRAT!
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Vito (a co-owner with his brother) and his family. Vito and his brother Salvatore are originally from Sicily, just an hour’s drive from my wife’s hometown in Northwestern Sicily, so they know how good food should be prepared and enjoyed.
The prices are very reasonable, particularly in NYC, with pizzas and pastas in the $10-$14 range and veal (with a side of pasta) running $12 to $16. They offer several wine options in a multitude of colors and varieties with glasses starting at $6 and bottles in the low $20s.
On our first visit, we started with the insalata Mozzarella Caprese ($8), not the “traditional” insalata Caprese with mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil, but a salad with a couple small mozzarella balls and sliced tomato, mostly arugula, and a few olives. I was not overly impressed for the $8 price tag. My wife ordered the Pizza Quattro Formaggio ($13), a wood-fired pie of 12+ inches smothered in four types of cheese (mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola and fontina) and baked to a golden brown. The pizza and Caprese are the only reason they will not get my highest rating. The pizza was good, not great, and not on the same level as true pizza Napoletana. I had the Vitello (veal) alla Parmigiana ($12), three good size veal cutlets breaded and fried, then smothered in marinara, topped with mozzarella, and baked to a golden brown. It came with a side of Spaghetti alla Bolognese, their meat sauce, which was as good as any I have had. A bottle of Chianti ($24) brought the tab to around $60 for an excellent meal, about the same price as we paid for garbage at a West Village German restaurant the night before. An excellent value!
We came back a second time two nights later, always a good sign, my wife having the Tortellini alla Panna ($12) instead of pizza and me the Veal Saltimbocca alla Romana ($16) … buonissimo! The tortellini were likely not homemade, but were very good and the cream sauce rich and delicious. The veal saltimbocca was divine, likely the best I have had, including in Rome (hence the name – Romana). Lightly breaded veal cutlets atop a bed of spinach and covered with prosciutto crudo then baked in a light white wine, butter, and lemon sauce infused with rosemary … MAMA MIA! The accompanying spaghetti was topped with the same sauce and with a little freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, it was exquisite … the best $16 I have spent in a long time!

Being our last night in NYC and Brooklyn, we splurged and shared a piece of cheesecake ($5). Made with ricotta rather than cream cheese, it was typically Italian and not as sweet as its NYC cousin, but very good nonetheless.
I never did get to try the stuffed artichoke, but the food was wonderful, the service and hospitality excellent, the setting quaint and warm, and the value exceptional. We made some new friends and enjoyed the excellent food, surely to return on our next trip to Brooklyn and NYC.

CombatCritic Gives Cataldo’s 9 Bombs Out Of 10 As One Of The Best Values (BANG FOR THE BUCK) in NYC and Brooklyn … More Bombs Are Better!

Nine Bombs Equates To:
“U.S. Marine Response To A Verbal Greeting Or As An Expression Of Enthusiasm”

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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MENU

Cataldo's Restaurant and Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic

View my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Brooklyn, NY: A CombatCritic BestValue … This Brooklyn Ristorante Is Well Worth A Visit!

Key Words: Cataldo’s Restaurant, Cataldo’s, Cataldo, Brooklyn, NYC, New York City, New York, Italian, pizza, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Philadelphia, PA: This Place Is The Real Deal Folks … Luigi’s Is THE BOMB!


Luigi’s Pizza Fresca
2401 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Fairmount, Art Museum District
Phone: (215) 769-8888
Prices: $$$$
The owner, Luigi, is from Naples (Italy), my wife’s hometown, so he knows how to cook proper Italian. The food is incredible, the portions huge, and the prices extremely fair.
We found Luigi’s after a short visit to Eastern State Penitentiary, just down the street a few blocks (they are also just a few blocks east of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). A simple place, it looks like a takeout pizza joint where you can get a slice and a soda and sit if you want, but the menu is much more extensive than you might think. Beside pizza, sandwiches, pasta, and salads, they offer chicken parmigiana, veal parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, and chicken cacciatore, all $10.95, including a large side of pasta ($2.50 more for gnocchi, tortellini, or ravioli).

My wife had a panino (singular – “panini” is actually plural in Italian), the Four Season ($8.95) with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, oregano, and basil on fresh focaccia and an order of fries ($3.50). The panino was very big and delicious, and the fries hot and perfectly cooked. The focaccia was obviously made in-house, soft on the inside and slightly crispy and perfectly seasoned with olive oil, fresh rosemary and sea salt on the outside. I ordered the Veal Parmigiana ($10.95), coming with a massive side of tortellini ($2.50 extra for a total of $13.45). The veal was the best parmigiana I have had in memory and the portion was huge (see my photos) with four good size breaded veal scallops covered with the best marinara I have had outside Italy and fresh, warm, gooey, delicious mozzarella. Then there was the tortellini, a meal in itself,  perfectly cooked “al dente” and tossed (not drenched) in a superb Bolognese (meat) sauce just as it should be. I did not think I could eat all of it when they brought it to the table, but it was so good I could not help myself, cleaning both plates by the time we were done.

The bill came to a little over $30 for the sandwich, fries, veal, pasta, and two fountain drinks, a mere pittance for a meal as good as this one. Their service and hospitality could not have been better or friendlier and the food is one of the best “values” I have experienced in a long, long time. Grazie Luigi … a presto!

CombatCritic Gives Luigi’s Pizza Fresca 10 Bombs Out Of 10 And A Spot On My “WALL OF FAME” … More Bombs Are Better …. Luigi’s is THE BOMB!

Ten Bombs Equates To:
“Phonetic spelling of the acronym HUA, which stands for ‘Heard Understood Acknowledged.’ Originally used by the British in the late 1800’s in Afghanistan. More recently adopted by the United States Army to indicate an affirmative or a pleased response.” – Urban Dictionary

“The Department of Military Science and Leadership, University of Tennessee claim HOOAH ‘refers to or means anything except no’ … Regardless of its meaning … the term is an expression of high morale, confidence, motivation and spirit.” – WarChronicle.com

“The U.S. Air Force stole ‘HOOAH’ from the Army because we were part of the Army until 1947 and rather than waste a bunch of time coming up with something new and unique, we said ‘screw it, let’s go with HOOAH’ … thanks Army … HOOAH! – CombatCritic

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Luigi's Pizza Fresca Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Philadelphia, PA: This Place Is The Real Deal Folks … Luigi’s Is THE BOMB! 

Key Words: Luigi’s Pasta Fresca, Luigi’s, , Luigi, pasta, fresca, Philadelphia, PA, Pennsylvania, Italian, pizza, museum, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Windber, PA: Not The Best Italian I Have Had, But Well Worth The Drive


Rizzo’s Restaurant
2200 Graham Avenue
Windber, PA 15963
Phone: (814) 467-7908
Website: rizzosofwindber.com


A little over 20 miles from Interstate 70 and Somerset, Pennsylvania where we stayed in a quaint B&B, we found Rizzo’s when nothing in Somerset looked very interesting for our anniversary dinner.
Al large building in Eastern Windber, the family lives upstairs and the restaurant is downstairs. The restaurant itself is somewhat nondescript with bright lighting. The bar has a little more ambience, but we were seated in the “hallway” behind the bar, a high traffic area with little charm.

The service was friendly and efficient. I started with the house Burgundy ($4.50), coming in a small glass, it was chilled and somewhat sweet as expected of most inexpensive burgundies. My wife ordered the Fettucine Maria ($13.50), homemade fettucine noodles with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and peas in a light alfredo sauce. The noodles were perfectly cooked, but the sauce was rather bland. My wife, who is Italian and rarely adds grated cheese to her pasta, had to resort to the shaker of parmesan (parmigiano) in order to add some flavor. I had the Veal Parmigiana ($17.95), a large and very tasty cutlet topped with a delicious homemade marinara sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese and baked or broiled until melted.

The New York Cheesecake ($4.75) was rich and delicious, as good as any I have had whether or not in was made in-house. The owner’s son stopped by to chat briefly, then brought me a small glass of homemade orangecello (orange version of limoncello) as a digestivo (after dinner drink to aid in digestion).

My only gripes were the small, inexpensive, cold glass of burgundy (I was expecting something different), no soup or salad with the meal, the rather bland fettucine sauce, and the absence of much atmosphere in the restaurant. However, for under $50, Rizzo’s was a very good value and well worth the nearly 30 mile drive.

CombatCritic Gives Rizzo’s 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Seven Bombs Equates To:

Rizzo's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato






Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Rizzo's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Windber, PA: Not The Best Italian I Have Had, But Well Worth The Drive

Key Words: Rizzo’s, Rizzo, Italian, restaurant, food, pasta, parmigiana, veal, alfredo, Windber, PA, Pennsylvania, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = “Shits & Grins”

Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"


Lidia’s Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Website: lidias-kc.com
Prices: $$$$

 
We have been going to Lidia’s since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.
 
Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like “frico” (cheese crisp – $12.50), “cozze” (mussels – $12.00), “arancini” (deep fried risotto balls – $12.00), and “pappa al pomodoro” ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup – $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.
 
Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not “meal size” as you will find in the United States. At Lidia’s they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad – one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia’s unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, which are quite filling.
 
Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their “primi” (first courses – pastas) are Lidia’s “Best Value”, especially their “pasta trio” which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This “all you can eat” medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different pastas (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can instead.
 
The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed … but you will be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia’s, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by “contorni” (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their “involtini di manzo”, rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.
 
Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the “Value List” has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a “decent” value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.
 
We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $29.50. Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from a wide variety on main courses, including the “Pasta Tasting Menu”, frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.
 
We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 
 
Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.
 

CombatCritic Gives Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A “Decent Value”

Key Words: Lidia’s Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia’s, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, crossroads, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

"Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville


Café Italia
160 English Landing Dr
Parkville, MO 64152
Phone: (816) 584-0607
Prices: $$$$
 
With a shortage of non-chain Italian restaurants in the Northland, Cafe Italia in Parkville did not let us down. The atmosphere is sparse, but modern with a touch of elegance as opposed to their old location on North Oak. The menu was missing one of my favorites from the old location, vitello (veal) saltimbocca. We started with wine, Canyon Road Cabernet ($22/bottle) from the limited wine list. Prices by the glass are reasonable, from $6-$7.50/glass.
 
We ordered a stuffed artichoke, while tasty, and hot, was too “cheesy” and drenched in olive oil. It was a bit disappointing, but my standards are very high because I learned an excellent stuffed artichoke recipe form my grandmother who was born in the Irpino region of Italy. We both had the caesar salad which was excellent, the only problem being the very large (but delicious) croutons that had to be eaten by hand because they were too hard to cut into pieces. My wife, a native Italian, had ravioli con funghi, stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, and capocollo in a mushroom sauce. The taste was excellent, but the pasta was too “al dente” (undercooked). Being Italian, my wife is hard to please when it comes to Italian food, but she enjoyed her meal very much. I had the vitello alla parmigiana which was tasty, but a little tough for “milk-fed veal” which was advertised on the menu. The color and texture seemed more like sliced beef to me, but it was tasty and reasonably priced, veal or beef.
 
The size of the portions were overly generous, so we had to pass on dessert. The owners stopped by to talk and one had family from the same area of Sicily where my wife was born, so they were able to speak in Italian about their shared heritage. Overall, we had a nice meal, the service was very good, and we will return soon to see if any of the problems noted above have been taken care of.
 
CombatCritic Gives Cafe Italia 6 out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
 
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Title: “Fair” Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

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

Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options


Da Franco
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Elea 213
84046 Marina, Italy
Phone: +39 0974 972979
Prices: $$$$
 
For a tourist/beach town, Ascea is noticeably lacking in a selection of decent restaurants, particularly on “the Corso” or main street. We went to Pizzeria and Ristorante Da Franco with a friend who lives in Ascea. The restaurant is at the far end of Corso from the town center and they have a reasonable €15 menu del giorno (tourist menu; primo, secondo, contorno, coperto, servizio) for dinner. It is quite big inside, but being a nice evening we sat on the small terrace in front on the street. The service was very attentive and good. 
 
I went with the menu del giorno and a primo of penne boscaiola (meat, mushrooms, and peas) with scallopina ai funghi (meat scallops in mushroom sauce) as my secondo and patatine (french fries) for a contorno. The boscaiola was creamy, earthy and robust, the scallopine light and savory, and the fries crispy and hot. An excellent meal at just €15.
 
My wife and her friend had pizza which was as good as expected in Southern Italy, particularly anywhere within 100 miles of Naples. The crusts thin, yet sturdy enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy with just the right amount of tomato and other ingredients, not too many and not too few.
 
Da Franco was quite a good value in a beach town with remarkably few options, particularly for those on a budget and is recommended when visiting Ascea.
 
CombatCritic Gives Da Franco 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
 
 
 
 
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Title: Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options

 
Key Words: Da Franco, franco, Ascea, restaurant, ristorante, pizzeria, pizza, menu del giorno, menu, giorno, review, travel, value, Campania, Italy, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue
 

Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting


La Cantina di Baffone
Contrada Palombaro
Montecalvo, Irpino, Province of Avellino, Campania
Phone: +39-334-182-5144

Prices: $$$$$

Woman In Traditional “Montecalvese” Dress

An agriturismo in my paternal grandfather’s hometown, we discovered La Cantina di Baffone when my relatives took us their for dinner one night. Not far from Montecalvo, a small, hillside town 60 miles east of Naples, the restaurant seems to be far from civilization in a relaxed and peaceful setting surrounded by olive and cherry trees. My cousin Gino called ahead for a table and we arrived at 9:30pm, not very late by Italian standards.

It did not take long for the attentive staff to come by to greet us and give us menus, we quickly ordered mineral water and the local wine with four of six in our party ordering their legendary pizza while Gino and I decided to try the local specialties.

Bruschetta

My grandmother, although she and my grandfather met in the States, was born in Trevico, a small mountaintop town just 20 miles from Montecalvo, so her cooking was very similar to the dishes found in this region. The server, one of two twins that own the agriturismo, quickly brought out two platters of bruschetta (€1.50 each – FYI: the “ch” in Italian is pronounced like our “k’, so it is pronounced brew-sket-ah, not brew-shet-a). Montecalvo is renowned for its bread in the Irpino region and it is said that there are so many ovens baking bread in town that it melts the snow on the streets in winter. The toasted slices of pane (bread) Montecalvese were rubbed with garlic and topped with juicy tomato chunks then sprinkled with diced basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Patane e Pupini

The pizzas, none over €5 and the cheapest I have seen in recent memory, were huge and perfectly cooked, the dough thin, but firm (not chewy, not burnt) with abundant ingredients. With the ability to have fabulous pizza around every corner back in Naples, my focus was on the cucina tipica (local cuisine), Montecalvese in this case.

For our first courses (primi), Gino and I both had the Cicatielli e Broccoli (€5). Cicatielli is the local pasta and is used almost exclusively in homes and restaurants. With just the right amount of perfectly cooked pasta, the broccoli was not overwhelmed by the light, creamy sauce holding the pasta together … Buonissimo!

Gino ordered the Patane e Pupini (€5), a traditional combination of roasted sweet sausage, red and green bell peppers, and potatoes. It was as good as my grandma’s with just a little char on the slices of sausage, potatoes, and peppers and delicious along with the local bread. I love veal and when I was told that the Spezzatino Montecalvese (€5) was a “veal stew”, I had no other choice. Simmered for hours in its own juices, a little fresh tomato, olive oil, and salt were all I could detect being added to the sauce. The veal was tender, literally melting in my mouth, and the sauce sublime, a perfect yet simple combination of fresh ingredients. My Italian-born wife always tells me that it is “frowned upon” in public, but I could not resist to “fare la scarpetta” (to do the little shoe) with the leftover sauce, using a small piece of local bread to mop up the wonderful sauce I could not possibly have left behind. 

Although thoroughly stuffed, we could not resist the cheesecake (€2.50), a house specialty, coming either plain or drizzled with chocolate, caramel, or in our case a fresh fruit sauce with strawberry, raspberry, and cherry from trees in the adjacent grove. The graham cracker crust was thick and crisp and the filling rich and decadent, a dessert easily fetching more than twice the price in most stateside restaurants.

Cantina di Baffone is one of those hidden gems you come across rarely in life and we would have never gone there if it were not for my cousins, but am I glad we did! For a party of six, we ate extremely well for less than €10 per person, including drinks, making this restaurant an exceptional value. We only see my relatives every couple of years, but the next time we are in Montecalvo we will return to di Baffone for another delicious and inexpensive meal.

CombatCritic Gives Cantina di Baffone 10 Out Of 10 Bombs … Value Does Not Get Better Than This … More Bombs Are Better!


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Title: Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting

Key Words: La Cantina di Baffone, cantina, baffone, Contrada, Palombaro, Montecalvo Irpino, Avellino, Campania, agriturismo, restaurant, Italian, Italy, review, menu, CombatCritic, travel, value

Rocco Provides The Knockout Punch To Naples Take-Out


Rocco e Suoi Fratelli
Via San Giacomo dei Capri 155 
80131 Naples, Italy
Telephone: 081 5465302 

Rocco e Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) is a pizzeria not far from my in-laws house in Naples. After my mother-in-law’s surgery and half a day at the hospital, we did not feel much like cooking, so we ordered from Rocco’s to be delivered. You do not get food as good as this delivered in the States.

We started with antipasto (appetizers), a mix of arancini di riso (fried rice balls), fried calamari, potato croquettes, zeppoline (a deep fried puff of dough with bits of algae inside that I can only imagine got its name because of a resemblance to a zeppelin, e.g. the Hindenburg) battered and fried shrimp (gambaretti) and other deep-fried Neapolitan favorites. There went my cholesterol!

My sister-in-law ordered far too much food for three people, so we had lunch, dinner that night, and still had leftovers. Our primo (first course), gnocchi alla Sorrentino (il mio cognome – my surname), was too much to eat with firm, not too hard, not too soft, balls of potato goodness, infused with fresh mozzarella and baked in a light tomato sauce. With just the right consistency of gnocchi to mozzarella to sauce, it does not get much better than this. Delicioso!

For reasons unknown, we also ordered a pizza quattro formaggi (four cheese pizza) that did not even have a dent put in it at lunch. I did have a piece for dinner and for being hours old, the crust was still firm yet pliant and the cheeses gooey and savory. It is well known that I love frierielli (broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil and garlic), so it was also on the menu. I had some by itself at lunch but having missed my favorite sausage and frierielli pizza for too long, I added some to the pizza quattro formaggi and threw it in the microwave for thirty seconds … buono … yum … scrummy!!!

For take-out, Rocco’s cannot be beat and I am sure that dining-in is likely as good if not better, so I am a fan and as Arnold Schwarzeneggar would say: “I’ll be back”.

CombatCritic Gives Rocco e Suoi Fratelli 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!





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Title: Rocco Provides The Knockout Punch To Neapolitan Take-Out


Key Words: Rocco e Suoi Fratelli, Rocco, suoi, fratelli, Napoli, Naples, Italy, Italian, pizza, pizzeria, delivery, menu, pasta, gnocchi, Sorrentino, zeppoline, arancini, calamari, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Cibo Sano: Great Potential And Good Value With A Little Room To Grow


Cibo Sano
4821 W 6th Street, Suite K
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: (785) 856-2414

Website: cibosanoitaliangrille.com
Prices: $$$$$

My friend Doug P checked-in at Cibo Sano on Facebook while I was in India and raved about the place, so I had to give it a try when I recently returned to the States after four months abroad.

 

The signs in front of Cibo Sano indicating that parking is strictly for “10 minutes” and “carry out” customers only was a bit off-putting because we had to park 50 feet away and the temperature was in the teens … brrrrrrrrr!  I asked why 10-15 spots were reserved for carry out customers when the place was empty (when we arrived) and we were told that the signs were from businesses now closed and that they were not sure why they were still there. Paint ’em, tear ’em out, but do not leave them there because they makes no sense, not that many, three spots max.

 
pasta and proteins

The interior is modern and clean, but cold and uninviting. There is little decor and the place could use some ambiance (color, carpet, art, tablecloths). The menu is a bit overwhelming and confusing at first and the prices ($7.99 for pasta/wrap/salad) did not match those on the web ($5.99 on Yelp, $6.99 on their website), a significant difference and false advertising if you want to get technical. 

 
veggies

It would be very helpful to have a small menu sheet and a pencil available to check off which ingredients customers want on our pastas, wraps, or salads rather than having to memorize the numerous choices (pasta or orzo, 5 different sauces and proteins, 4 of 15 available toppings, 3 different cheeses … ouch, my head hurt!). Once we got to the counter it made a little more sense, but the labels on the window between me and the ingredients did not match up with what was in the containers … more confusion.

 

The employees were very friendly and helpful and our pastas were quickly assembled, coming to a little under $20 for two of us, including a “cheesy flat bread” ($2.99). I had the penne with arrabbiata (spicy tomato) sauce, spicy Italian sausage, grilled diced white onion, sautéed diced peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese. My wife also had the penne, but with alfredo sauce, sautéed mushrooms, black olives, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese.

 

The cheesy flat bread was good, coming with a ranch dressing and Parmesan sauce for dipping. The pastas were also tasty and a decent value even at $7.99 (extra for protein), coming in a large bowl and a good size portion. My only complaint was that both pasta dishes were lukewarm at best, not piping hot as they should be. My wife, a native Italian, said hers was good, but tasted like a pasta salad. The manager came over and asked how our meals were, so I told him they were good, but not hot enough, giving him a couple of improvement suggestions.

 
penne with alfredo sauce, mushrooms, olives, artichokes

The pasta and ingredients are pre-cooked and placed in a warming table, uncovered and not keeping them quite warm enough, a potential health hazard (e.g. sausage). I recommended that the pasta be pre-cooked al dente and dipped in boiling water for a minute prior to adding the ingredients or, better yet, adding the pasta and all of the ingredients to a frying pan, heating it for 30-60 seconds on the grill prior to serving. The manager, a very nice and open-minded young man, indicated that they had tried my second option, but that it took too long and customers ended up leaving. Microwaving should not be an option, not being optimal for texture or professionalism. Personally, I would prefer to wait a few additional minutes for hot pasta, but I am not as anal retentive as many these days … hurry, hurry, hurry … rush, rush, rush … calm down and relax for cryin’ out loud!

 
I may sound overly critical, but as I explained to the manager, I want new businesses such as Cibo Sano to succeed and my criticisms are constructive, not complaints. To summarize:
  • Get rid of the “carry out” signs in front
  • Warm the place up a bit with some fitting decor
  • Make it easier for people to order
  • Keep the website (prices, options) current
  • Serve hot pasta … figure it out


penne arrabbiata with sausage, grilled onion, peppers, and mushrooms

In all, we enjoyed our meals and will return to see if things change for the better, making Cibo Sano (“healthy food” in Italian) a contender for “best pasta value” in Lawrence, a town with a dearth of decent, reasonably priced Italian food. Another plus, you can now bring your own wine for a reasonable $2 corking fee, a nice option, so bring your favorite vino along and … buon appetito!

 
CombatCritic Gives Cibo Sano An Initial 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Room To Grow … Bombs Are Good
 
 
 
 
 
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Cibo Sano Italian Grille on Urbanspoon









Title: Cibo Sano: Great Potential And Good Value With A Little Room To Grow

Key Words: Cibo Sano, cibo, sano, healthy. food, Italian, restaurant, menu, pasta, salad, wrap, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

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


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

Mobile: +91-9871474753
Landline: 011-23320081

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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



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

A Tavola Con Te … Authentic Italian in Rishikesh, India


A Tavola Con Te
Badrinath Road, Tapovan Sarai (Laxman Jhula) 
Rishikesh 249192, India

Phone: +91-812-685-9654

Website

Prices: $$$$$


A Tavola con Te was recommended to me by Maria, an acquaintance from Columbia whom I met in Dharamsala. She told me that an Italian couple had just opened a restaurant and guest house in Rishikesh and that they made wood fire oven pizza, so I had to go there on my first evening in town.

The owners are from Milano (Milan) and have recently moved to Rishikesh. The property is up an alley off of the main road, so use TripAdvisor’s directions or GoogleMaps and follow the signs up the alley about 1oo meters and look for the gate with a sign on your left. From there you meander another 50 meters or so past some houses and through a garden to the restaurant and Namaste Guest House.

They have a small terrazzo (terrace) that is nicely done with bamboo roof and decorative cement pillars, overlooking the garden, giving the dining area a rustic feel, and making me feel as if I were in an agriturismo in Italy. There are also a couple of tables on the grass under the stars (or sun), but no indoor option.

They serve pizza from 5:30 PM on, so do not expect it any earlier as the oven is lit around 3PM and takes a couple hours to reach the proper temperature. I ordered the “Buffalo”, a 14 inch pizza with imported Italian (Vesuvio) tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella – a specialty of Campania, Italy), and fresh basil leaves, a favorite of pizza napolitana (from Naples, Italy) lovers, which I am one.

My pizza was very good although a little dry because the tomato sauce was very thinly spread and the heat of the wood oven had dried it out. A little more sauce (or fresh tomatoes) or some olive oil (preferably olio picante) drizzled over the top prior to serving would have been wonderful, but I wolfed down my pie nonetheless as it was very tasty and the best pizza I have had since I was in Italy last. 


My wife, being from Napoli (Naples), would complain about the crust because Neopolitans (napolitani … my wife will kill me when she reads this because she is actually Sicilian and refuses to admit that her family has lived in Naples most of her life) are pizza snobs because pizza was invented there and Naples admittedly has the BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD. Pizza crust in Naples is a science and nowhere else on Earth will you find such soft, yet crisp on the bottom crust and fresh, flavorful toppings as you will find in Napoli.

The crust at A Tavola con Te is definitely “Northern Italian”, indicative of pizze (pizzas) in Rome and north and considering the fact that Il Pizzaiuolo (pizza maker) is from Milan, appropriate to the situation. I prefer the crusts in Naples, but who am I to complain because it was very good, not burnt, and crispy but still a tad chewy. Bravissimo!

I returned a few days later for my birthday dinner and everyone wished me well, very thoughtful of them to remember! I started with the pumpkin (zucca) soup, which was creamy, rich, and excellent, but just lukewarm, not hot, and accompanied by four slices of warm bread.

For my entree, I had the vegetarian lasagna (250 rupees/$4.00), a decent size slab that was, again, not very hot and layered with pasta, melanzane (eggplant), bechamel and tomato sauce, and cheese. The eggplant was a bit chewy and the lasagna needed a little more mozzarella, but otherwise it was quite tasty.

Having had the panna cotta after my previous dinner, my birthday dessert had to be the tiramisú (170 rupees/$2.70), layers of savoiardi cookies soaked in espresso, and encased in sweet mascarpone cheese, then sprinkled with cocoa powder … delicioso!


On my next visit I tried the Pizza Vegetariana (260 rupees/$4.10), coming topped with mushrooms, eggplant, onion, bell peppers, spinach, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Again, the pizza was very good, but a bit dry and with a negligible amount of mozzarella. Being 50 to 100 rupees (80 cents to $1.60) more than the “average” equivalent pizza in many restaurants in India, I would expect a bit more sauce and cheese, even if they are imported and more expensive than the varieties most Indian restaurants use.

FYI – I am much harder on Italian restaurants than I am on others because Italian food is my passion and expectations are exceedingly high, particularly when Italians are in the kitchen. So do not get me wrong by thinking I was unhappy with any of my meals here because I was not and they were the best I have had in my two months in India. A few minor tweaks and this place will be THE BOMB …

1.  They could use some antipasti on the menu (bruschetta, cheese platter, olives/grilled vegetables, insalata caprese, etc) and bread because the pizzas and pastas are not filling enough on their own. 

2. The lights are a bit bright on the terrace at night, so some lower voltage bulbs and candles or lanterns would provide a cozier, more intimate feel.

3. Portions could be just a tad bigger for the price and attention to detail, ensuring that food is appropriately warm and not too dry, will go a long way in satisfying hungry customers.

I really want this restaurant to succeed because the owners are extremely nice and have positive, professional attitudes, the location has great “bones”, the food is very well done, and the prices are reasonably fair. Please visit A Tavola con Te and tell them CombatCritic sent you because I want to come back next time I am in Rishikesh … a presto (see you soon)!


CombatCritic Gives A Tavola con Te 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More BOMBS Are Better!





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Title: A Tavola Con Te … Authentic Italian in Rishikesh, India

Key Words: Rishikesh, A Tavola con Te, tavola, con, te, Italian, restaurant, ristorante, food, pizza, pasta, Himalaya, Himalayas, Dalai Lama, dalai, lama, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, TripAdvisor

Good, Reasonably Priced Fare In A Country Not Well Known For Great Italian


Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen
Jogiwara Road, Market Area (Upstairs)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India 176219
Prices: $$$$$
Dining Room
Jimmy’s is the only restaurant in town that serves only Italian food … bruschetta (learn how to pronounce it Americans), pasta, pizza, main courses with actual meat and more! You have to look up and on the right as you walk up Jogiwara Road (from the direction of the Dalai Lama’s Temple) about halfway through the McLeod Ganj “market” (shopping area) on the way to the Main Square to see Jimmy’s neon sign up on the third floor.

TV and Asian Style Seating Area
The restaurant is large by Dharamsala standards and nicely appointed with marble-top tables, nice modern colors, plenty of windows, and movie posters on the walls. They have a large screen LCD TV, which happened to be televising a cricket game while I was there. There are two small areas, one in the front as you walk in and another in the back near the TV, where those with good knees can sit at a low table on mats Asian style. Being an old military retiree and disabled Veteran, I went for a table and chairs.
The menu is large with numerous antipasti (appetizers), both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg as they are referred to here, several primi (first courses), including pizza and pasta dishes, as well as homemade ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi, and, finally, secondi (second courses – think meat) where you can choose from chicken, mutton, or pork prepared in a variety of ways. They also have many drinks, including milk shakes and lassi (a yogurt-based drink found throughout India similar to a milk shake, but without the ice cream).
Veggie Bruschetta
For my antipasto, I decided to try the mixed grilled vegetable “bruchetta” (90 Rupees/$1.46 – spelled “bruschetta” in Italy and unlike the pronunciation used by most Americans, pronounced “brew-sket-a”, not brew-shet-a, as the “sch” in Italy is pronounced like “sk” is in English). What I received was four large toasted slices of the best Italian-style bread I have had in India to date with an abundance of tasty grilled veggies (eggplant, mushrooms, onion, and bell peppers) with melted mozzarella cheese on top. Normally, bruschetta is served with cold vegetables (tomato, vegetables) on top and no cheese, but I was quite pleased with the taste. Bravo!
Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Soup, I Mean Sauce
For my primo, I chose the handmade gnocchi with ham in a pesto cream sauce (190 Rupees/$3.10). The gnocchi was excellent and perfectly cooked, not too chewy and not falling apart in my mouth, and the sauce was flavorful, not requiring salt, pepper, or added cheese as is the case with most pasta dishes I have had in India, but with a touch too much garlic (and I love garlic). My only complaint, and I shared this with the owner before leaving, was the same as at many restaurants in the U.S., and that is that there was far too much sauce. Proper pasta is served “al dente” and lightly basted in the sauce just prior to serving by flipping the pasta in the pan containing the heated sauce, but many restaurants outside of Italy overdo the sauce and mine was more like a thick soup with the gnocchi and ham being overwhelmed by the sauce. The owner shared with me the reason it is served this way and that is because his Indian customers are used to thick sauces (think curry, jalfraizi, and vindaloo) and believe that al dente pasta is undercooked, so he is catering to the majority of his clientele. Fair enough.
Chocolate Milk Shake
Feeling hungry and decadent, I also ordered a chocolate milk shake with ice cream (120 Rupees/$1.95) because I had read that they had an excellent peanut butter milk shake (not on the menu) on TripAdvisor. If you order a milk shake in India, do not expect what you normally think of a shake in western countries as they do not contain ice cream unless so stated. Drinks in India are routinely lukewarm as refrigeration is not great and ice is not a good idea because of potential water-born illnesses, so your milk shake will likely not be cold and frosty as you would expect. Mine tasted good enough, but the ice cream was not fully blended and at nearly $2 it was probably one of the worst values in my restaurant experiences here in India.

I spent Thanksgiving in Dharamsala, so because there was no turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie, I decided to have the next best thing … ITALIAN FOOD! Normally eating a bowl of thupka or thenthuk (Tibetan noodle and vegetable soup), I splurged and ordered Jimmy’s Tomato and Mozzarella Salad (“Insalata Caprese” – Salad From Capri In Italian – 120 Rupees/$1.95), an order of garlic bread (40 Rupees/65 cents), and the Penne Romano (al dente penne, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese – 150 Rupees/$2.40).

Penne Romano
The insalata Caprese was actually very good with an abundance of fresh, sliced tomato, slices of mozzarella cheese, a little lettuce, and drizzled with an light olive oil and vinegar dressing. The mozzarella was sliced a bit too thin compared to the Italian equivalent and you would normally have fresh basil (instead of lettuce) on top with extra virgin olive oil (no vinegar), but it was excellent nonetheless. The garlic bread (the bread is made fresh and in-house) was perfectly seasoned and toasted, and the perfect accompaniment to the tomato salad. The penne Romano, although arriving far too soon and shortly after my antipasto had arrived, was al dente just the way I like it and the olive oil and garlic sauce tasty although a little too dry. A bit more olive oil would have helped, but it was delicious in any case.

CombatCritic Gives Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!


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Key Words: Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, Jimmy’s, Jimmy, Italian, kitchen, pasta, pizza, restaurant, McLeod Ganj, mcloed, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Jogiwara, road, market, CombatCritic, travel, value, menu

Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi … Superb Thai Curry


“Mediocre Service, Non-Existent WiFi … Superb Thai Curry

The Clay Oven

McLeod Ganj, Himachal PradeshDharamsala 176219India

The restaurant sits just off the main square on the TIPA (Dharamkot) road and looks nicer than most in McLeod Ganj with wood beam ceilings, earth tones, and a nice terrace. 

The free WiFi was nearly non-existent, so don’t bother if you need to get anything done while waiting to be seated, get your menu or your food.


I stood at the counter waiting for a table for nearly 5 minutes while employees danced around me saying nothing and with just three parties in a place that seats 50. I finally got my menus another 5 minutes after the grumpy guy (owner?) at the register ignored me and I sat myself.


I ordered the green chicken (Thai) curry (200 rupees – $3.20) and waited close to 30 minutes … but IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT! Accompanied by white rice, the curry came in a clay pot, was generous in size, and hot, not scalding. The flavor was as good as any green curry I have had stateside and I have had quite a few. Spicy, but not overly hot, there were chunks of white meat chicken, mushrooms, and onion with just the right curry to rice ratio. Good stuff and at $3+ it was definitely the best value in terms of curry I have experienced!


The food quality and value alone would rate 9 BOMBS, but deducting 1 BOMB for lousy internet and another for mediocre service …


CombatCritic Gives The Clay Oven 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!








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Key Words: The Clay Oven, clay, oven, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Mcleod, Ganj, India, Thai, Tibetan, Indian, curry, coffee, Italian, pizza, pasta, menu, travel, value, CombatCritic

Carpe Diem: Sieze the "Lait" … "Cafe au" That Is!


Carpe Diem Restaurant and Pizzeria
Jogiwara Road – Above Cinema
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India
+91-988-219-2294

Cuisine: Breakfast, Coffee/Tea/Beer, Indian, Italian, Thai

Prices: $$$$$

Rooftop Terrace

I heard good things about the pizza, understanding that they have a wood-fire oven. The place is not easy to find unless to look up to the third floor of the building above the cinema on Jogiwara Road. The indoor restaurant is up one flight of stairs, but the rooftop terrace is quite nice if the weather permits.


The indoor restaurant was empty at 8PM on a Sunday night, but the terrace was packed, leaving one table for me. The crowd seemed to be young, American/European/Australian bohemians dressed in baggy clothes with dreadlocks, which is extremely common in McLeod Ganj at least. There are six or seven tables with chairs and a sitting area with low tables and mats to sit on (do not forget to take off your shoes).

Mutton (Lamb) Pepperoni Pizza – 210 Rupees ($3.40)

The menu is eclectic, but I had to try the “excellent pizza” I had heard so much about. I ordered the non-vegetarian pepperoni pizza (210 rupees – $3.45), thinking that it would be the standard spicy, greasy, pork variety we American expect (“pepperoni” in Italy is green bell peppers). The pizza came rather quickly and looked quite good actually. Not huge, it was thin and crispy, much like the pizzas you get in Rome and the flavor was also decent … until I got my first bite of pepperoni. I actually like lamb from time to time, but not on my pizza. The pepperoni was obviously made of lamb (mutton here) and although not disgusting by any stretch, it was a little off-putting because it was not expected. Beside the taste of lamb sausage, the pizza was good, but next time I think I will order a vegetarian option or go with a Thai green curry or Indian dish.


One of the few restaurants that serves beer (you better like Kingfisher), the menu is huge and the prices are fair, a little higher than many places around town. The service was fast and friendly.


CombatCritic Gives Carpe Diem An Initial 6 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: CarpeDiem, carpe, diem, Jogiwara Road, breakfast, café, Thai, pizza, Dharamsala, food, Ganj, restaurant, beer, India, internet, Italian, McLeod, McLeod Ganj, menu, restaurant, Thai, Indian, terrace, travel, value, CombatCritic

Nick’s Italian Kitchen … Fair Pizza, Disappointing Cheesecake, Decent Value and GREAT COMPANY!


Nick’s Italian Kitchen
Bhagsu Road
McLeod Ganj, Himachel Pradesh, India

Cuisine: Italian, Tibetan, Chinese

Price: $$$$$

I stumbled upon Nick’s my first night in McLeod Ganj. The restaurant is situated in the Kunga Guest House less than 100 meters from the main square (going east) and has a large terrace overlooking the valley below with views of the Himalayan foothills.


I saw a young woman with a pizza that looked pretty darn good, so I ordered the vegetarian combo (bell peppers, mushrooms, onion, etc – 175 rupee – $2.85), a diet coke (40 rupee – 65 cents), and a liter of bottled water (25 rupee – 40 cents). Their desserts looked tempting and are apparently a specialty, so I completed my meal with a piece of lemon cheesecake.

The pizza crust was very good, not too thick, not too thin, crispy not burnt, but it became a little soggy (not too bad) from the liquid of one or more ingredients. The flavor of the pizza was bland and did not taste Italian, missing oregano and/or basil with an added spice I could not put my finger (or tongue for that matter) on. It was filling and tasted “OK”, but was disappointing after having looked so tempting.

The lemon cheesecake, although well done, did not taste like any cheesecake I have ever had in the US. It was thin and also somewhat bland, with little lemon taste or cheesiness. It was also “OK”, but not something I would order again as I am a cheesecake lover.

The highlight of the evening was Bargdo, a Buddhist monk from Tibet I was fortunate enough to have dinner with on this, my first evening in Dharamsala. He had been imprisoned by the Chinese in 1988 for protesting in Lhasa in favor of the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet and tortured for 4 years before the Dalai Lama arranged (paid the Chinese) for his release. 

Bargdo has not seen his family in close to 25 years and has only spoken to them twice in that time, not being allowed to phone, write, or otherwise communicate with his parents, siblings, and extended family still in Chinese controlled Tibet.

He has written 14 books and traveled the world speaking on the Tibetan dilemma, having met heads of state and countless celebrities. He is an extremely happy and jovial person, considering his extremely difficult experiences, and was a delight to spend the evening with.

Bargdo aside …


CombatCritic Gives Nick’s Italian Kitchen 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!







Key Words: Nick’s Italian Kitchen, Nick, Nicks, Nick’s, Italian, Kitchen, menu, restaurant, pizza, pasta, Bargdo, monk, Tibet, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, dharmsala, dharamsala, India, travel, value

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


Four Seasons Cafe 
Jogiwara Road
McLeod Ganj, India

Cuisine: Tibetan, Italian

Price: $$$$$

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


Momos in Soup

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


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

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

Chicken Soutsemen

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

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




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

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








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

Fool Me Once, Shame On You … Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me


Genovese

941 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 

(785) 842-8300

In my initial review of Genovese, I gave them a lackluster 5 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD … but looking back, I may have been too generous.

Bruschetta

We had bought a Genovese Groupon for $58 which included two appetizers and four entrees because we had planned to go with some friends, but our dinner plans fell through and after our first paltry experience, we were in no hurry to return. With the Groupon promotion lapsed, the “face value” of the Groupon “will still be honored” (according to Groupon’s website and disclaimer) and not wanting to waste $58, we decided to use it when my sons came to town for a visit from Colorado.

Insalata Caprese

Because I was using the “cash value” of the Groupon, not the promotion, I decided to utilize the “buy one entrée and two drinks, get one entrée for half off” offer advertised recently in the Lawrence Journal World (LJW). However, when it came time to pay the bill, the server told us that the manager would not honor the LJW offer. I asked to speak with him, explaining that the “cash value” of the Groupon was no longer a promotion, but if he wanted to honor it (even though it had expired) and give us the two appetizers and four entrees in exchange, that would be great! Otherwise, we were using no other “promotion” and I asked him to please honor the LJW coupon. He refused, not quite able to grasp the complexity of the situation or the meaning of “customer service”.

       Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Ravioli
Our meal, being bland, overpriced, with too much sauce on the pasta, was unremarkable and because it was overshadowed by the manager’s poor attitude, I will not waste too much time here explaining it. Leave it to say that the bruschetta ($6.50 – pronounced “brew-sket-ah”, not “brew-shet-a”) was three small pieces of white bread from the supermarket with a little cheese melted on top (bruschetta in never served with cheese), a little olive oil, and topped by three small grape tomatoes cut in halves. The Caprese salad (insalata), a favorite of mine, at $9.50 was equally as disappointing, being sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, another culinary faux pas, a few small slices of yellow tomato, thin pieces of mozzarella cheese, and a couple grape tomato halves in the middle. My wife’s wild mushroom and asparagus ravioli was supposed to come in a broth, but there was little broth visible, the pasta were dry, and their filling almost non-existent. 

Being a former baseball player, it normally takes three strikes to be “out”, but in the case of Genovese, two strikes shall suffice …
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Genovese will not be getting another chance in my book, mostly because of the manager’s unprofessional attitude, but also because of the poorly executed, overpriced food and …

CombatCritic Now Gives Genovese a Paltry 2 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!







 Genovese on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Genovese, Italian, restaurant, Massachusetts, street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Groupon, pasta, pizza, TripAdvisor, antipasti, Yelp, sausage, wine, UrbanSpoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Papa KENO’S Is A GAMBLE When It Comes To Timely Delivery And Customer Service


My son ordered over the phone because we could find no way to order online as advertised on their Yelp page but the employee told him “we’ll have it out when we have it out”. We live just 3 blocks away, but after 45 minutes there was still no sign of our pizza. It finally arrived nearly an hour after we placed our order, so I guess the guy on the phone was right after all.

Poor customer service aside, the pizza, although not cheap at $18 for a one-topping 18 inch cheese pizza, was not bad. We had the salami pizza and two order of breadsticks and the tab came to a little over $31 before tip. Not cheap. As far as I could tell, they do not offer specials online so what you se is what you get.

Decent pizza, not so decent value, and poor customer service means …

CombatCritic Gives Papa Keno’s (Lawrence) Only 4 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Papa Kenos Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Papa Keno’s, papa, keno’s, keno, pizza, parlor, food, Italian, menu, review, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, street, downtown, delivery, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

LiMESTONE: Strange Name, Fair Neopolitan-ish Pizza … Pastrami Sandwiches?


  • LiMESTONE
  • 814 Massachusetts St
    Lawrence, KS 66044
  • Phone number(785) 856-2825
  • Business websitelimestonepkb.com

Prices: $$$$$

Having lived in Napoli (Naples, Italy), being married to an Italian, not the “American” variety, and descended from Italian immigrants, I appreciate a well made wood oven Neapolitan (Napolitana) pizza. Many have tried to duplicate pizze Napolitane, but few have succeeded and I said to myself “speriamo” (“let’s hope so”) as I entered Limestone for the first time.

I tell you up front that I am comparing, somewhat unfairly, Limestone to the pizzerias of Napoli because they claim to offer Neopolitan pizza, so I may seem harsh. However, my comments are meant to be constructive, offering Charlie (the very friendly owner who happened to be making pizzas next to me while we chatted about Italy) the opportunity to enhance his restaurant as they grow and flourish.

Arancini di Riso (Fried Rice Balls – $2)
I had heard rave reviews from fellow Yelp Elite Scott T and others during their short time in existence, so I had to give Limestone a go. The name gives zero indication of the cuisine and I would never have known that this was a pizza place had my friend Scott not told me about it. Busy for a Thursday night, as a single I was able to be seated right away at the bar where I could watch the pizzas being made and placed in the ornate wood-fired oven.

The space is modern, not my favorite as you probably know by now, with an abundance of stone, wood, glass, and steel, and bright, almost too bright for my sensitive eyes. The center attraction is the large stone-encased wood pizza oven blazing away while pizzas are being hand tossed and decorated for a quick dip inside. The staff all seemed sincerely friendly and helpful, although the tattoo clad bartender had a bit of an attitude, but not so much that it was off-putting, and service was fast and efficient.

Arancini di Riso
Offering an “arancini” (“little oranges”) appetizer (“bites”) special for just $2, the two Neopolitan style deep fried saffron infused rice balls complete with fresh mozzarella inside sat atop a small plate of tomato sauce. Aranicni di riso are a pizzeria antipasto staple in Naples along with crocchette di patate (potato croquettes) and other deep fried delights and the only way to start a night in a traditional pizzeria. Limestone’s arancini were very well done, crunchy outside and moist inside, perfectly seasoned with saffron and other seasonings and a small ball of fresh mozzarella inside. I asked Charlie if they made their own mozzarella and much to my surprise he said “yes, about 600 pounds of curd per week”.

Now for the pizza … dun-dun-dun. With only six offerings (seven if you include the special), there is not nearly the variety one would find in a pizzeria Napolitana. I ordered the sausage pizza, a simple and traditional choice and normally not something I would choose, only because it and the Margherita (fresh tomato and mozzarella with fresh basil leaves on top – named after Queen Margherita’s favorite pizza), were the only two traditional Neopolitan pizza options available. I normally order pizza capricciosa (fresh tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, artichoke, fresh mozzarella cheese – fior di latte – and basil) or my all-time favorite, the friarielli e salsiccia (broccoli rabe and sausage), so I was a bit bummed that there was so little variety. Bacon and eggs on pizza? … bacon and potatoes? … Hollandaise sauce? … Gruyere cheese … NEVER IN NAPLES!

The Spud – $9

My wife, shortly after her return from two months in Naples visiting family and enjoying the “best pizza in the world” ordered “The Spud”, with “thin sliced, crème fraiche, house­recipe bacon, and rosemary” ($9). Her first comment was that the pizza was “too dry”, needing more crème fraiche, which was lightly drizzled across the top in an attempt to look “gourmet” rather than contributing to the consistency and flavor of the pizza. It could have also been lightly brushed with olive oil to enhance the flavor and moistness. Again, the toppings were so sparse that there was more dough visible than ingredients. The flavor was decent with a nice ratio of potato to bacon, but the toppings could be more evenly distributed across the pizza in order to ensure there is at least some potato, bacon, crème fraiche, and rosemary in every bite.

The pizza was a bit small ($10 for a 12 incher), one to two inches in diameter less than pizza Napolitana (for comparison, a sausage pizza in Naples would cost around 6 Euros, a little over $8). The consistency of the dough was close, but it was a little thicker than the original, particularly around the edges. Neopolitan pizza is soft on top, a little crisp on the bottom, with a couple burnt spots and thin enough as to not overwhelm the semi-abundant toppings. The tomato sauce was a tad too spicy and excessively visible due to the lack of mozzarella and sausage atop my pizza. Italians do not overload a pizza with toppings as is customary here in the US, but there is normally enough fresh mozzarella cheese to nearly cover the baked pastry completely after it has melted. That was not the case here and twice as much cheese (and sausage) still would not have sufficed. Although not nearly as good as the worst pizza I have eaten in Naples, it was good and surely better than anything I have eaten in Lawrence thus far. If compared to an $8 Neopolitan pizza, my pizza (based on size and abundance of toppings) should have probably been priced at $6 max, so it was not a great value.

But what do I know? Limestone has quickly become a popular spot on Mass Street and from the looks of it, doing extremely well … BRAVO! In a town void of a decent Italian restaurant, – people voted 715 “BEST FINE DINING IN LAWRENCE” in this year’s Best of Lawrence competition – Limestone is a welcome addition. I will return to see if they improve and to try other dishes (including hamburgers and pastrami sandwiches for some odd reason). Charlie seems like a nice guy and I wish him well … good luck Limestone!


CombatCritic Gives Limestone A Respectable 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBE SONO BUONE








Limestone Pizza Kitchen Bar on Urbanspoon

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Key Words: Limestone, pizza, kitchen, bar, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts Street, downtown, menu, pasta, wine, arancini, rice, Naples, Napoli, Italy, Italian, restaurant, CombatCritic, TravelValue

715 … Overrated, Underwhelming, Quasi Italian Fare


715
715 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Menu: LINK

Prices: $$$$$

I first heard about 715 from one of their former employees and chef, Jake Dodds Sloan, a friend of my son I met at a high-end resort deep in Denali National Park a couple years back. Since then, we moved to Lawrence and I have read numerous glowing reviews on Yelp and elsewhere about this Massachusetts Street institution, so we had to give it a try.

One of the reasons I avoided 715 this long was the decor, modern with sharp edges, steel, rock, and dark wood, uninviting in my eyes as I tend to gravitate toward a more traditional, classic look based on the cuisine being experienced.


The waiter never told us his name or at least I did not hear it over the noisy patrons, another American tradition I do not cherish. The service was attentive and our food arrived in a timely manner, allowing us to savor our antipasti before the primi arrived.

We ordered the “heritage pork” meatballs (5 for $8) and half a Wheatfield’s baguette as it was apparent that no bread would be accompanying our appetizers or meal, a definite fopaux in my eyes. The meatballs were tasty, medium in size and smothered in what they call “marinara”, seemingly canned tomatoes with alarmingly little seasoning and another disappointment I would experience again when my bucatini arrived shortly thereafter.

The Bucatini all’ Amatriciana ($17) was described as “rich pork guanciale [cured pork cheeks], caramelized red onion, spicy chiles, san marzano sauce, and parmigiano reggiano”. Traditionally, amatriciana is made with pancetta (Italian bacon) and sautéed white onion, lightly basting the pasta with definite evidence of both ingredients on the palate. My bucatini, thick tubes of pasta resembling oversized spaghetti, was more than al dente, it was undercooked, chewy, and lukewarm. The pasta was smothered, not lightly tossed, with what appeared to be the same tomatoes we had on the meatballs, again overly acidic with little seasoning (garlic, olive oil, salt), chunks of tomato pulp, and no sign of either the cured pork or onions that make the dish one of my favorites. I had to ask for more cheese, but by the time the paltry little dish with a smattering of shaved parmigiano arrived the pasta was cold and even harder than when it arrived, so I decided to finish my wife’s Asian spaghetti and take the bucatini home where I could season it properly.

Shiltake Spaghetti

My wife was going to order the spinach and ricotta ravioli, but at $15 for just five (5) and $23 for ten (10), it didn’t seem like a very good value. Instead she ordered the Shiltake Spaghetti, a blend of Shitake mushrooms, spinach, carrots, olive oil, and garlic with chunks of mozzarella tossed in. Untraditional in every sense of the word, the dish actually had much more flavor than my Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, a favorite when I lived in Italy and ate real pasta. Italians love their pasta and she enjoyed hers, noting just a bit too much olive oil.

Half Baguette – $5

My ratings are based on “value”, taking into account the entire experience including the quality of the food, ambiance, service, and price … the entire culinary experience. I have had far better meals for much less (in Italy) and more (see my review of Nonna in Puerto Rico), so price is but one factor. Based on my experience at 715, prices in the range of $10 to $13 would be more appropriate for the pasta dishes, $5 to $6 for the meatballs, and NO CHARGE for the bread would earn an extra bomb or two, but for an 8 to 10 bomb experience they would need to train their chefs in proper Italian culinary techniques, including how to cook pasta, season the sauces, and NOT drown the pasta in excess sauce. I was going to give them 5 bombs, but decided to add one additional for “effort” as they apparently make the pasta in-house, a rarity these days and something which should be rewarded.

CombatCritic Gives 715 6 Bombs Out of 10 … LE BOMBE SONO BUONE!



715 on Urbanspoon

Kitchen

Key Words: 715, restaurant, Lawrence, KS, 66044, Kansas, Massachusetts Street, Massachusetts, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Italian, food, pasta, menu

CombatCritic’s TravelValue eZine – Averaging Over 145 Hits A Day!


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The Basil Leaf Cafe … Still LEAFs Me Unimpressed


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

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


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

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

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


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

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

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

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

Mac and Cheese

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon








Review Updated May 12th, 2014

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

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

Genovese (Lawrence, Kansas): Decent Quality, Overpriced American-Italian Cuisine, Disappointing Experience


Genovese

941 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 

(785) 842-8300

Being of Italian descent with a grandmother from the homeland who was an excellent cook, having lived in Italy for three years and visiting frequently, and married to a Sicilian, let’s just say that I know good Italian food when I eat it. I found Genovese to be a fair Americanized reproduction with limited options.


With just “3 1/2 Stars” on Yelp and what I had heard about Genovese around town, we were not in a hurry to give them a try. There has been a long standing Groupon available for Genovese offering one appetizer ($6.50 – $9) and two entrees ($8.50 – $19) for $30 (notice that if you buy the least expensive offerings, you actually lose $6.50 on the deal), so we decided to have Easter dinner there.

It is not well advertised on Groupon, but the entrees are strictly from the pasta and pizza categories and the extra meat add-on for the pasta (chicken or sausage – $3, salmon or shrimp – $4) is included in the Groupon. If you do not order the most expensive options and the meat add-on, this Groupon is not a great value. 

Genovese has a $20 wine list which is a nice option for those on a budget with one bottle from each of the most popular grape varieties, including a Jacob’s Creek (Australia) Shiraz (Syrah) which I have had before that was quite nice and a very good value. There is a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Cabernet/Sangiovese blend from Italy among others in the “red” category and an equal number of white options which I did not even peruse.

For our appetizers (antipasti), we decided on the “spinach risotto fritters stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese topped with fonduta sauce” ($6.50) and an appetizer of the day, a selection of salumi, including capicollo, soppressata, and a cured duck accompanied by dried figs. We had to ask our server to bring bread because our antipasti had arrived and there was no indication that the bread would be forthcoming.


The bread was sliced into six small pieces, resembling a thick, fluffy focaccia and was accompanied by a lava bean puree and olive oil/Balsamic vinegar blend both in small cups. The “risotto fritters” are actually called “arancini de riso” and a specialty of Southern Italy (from Rome to Sicily). A small ball of rice and herbs with a piece of cheese in the center formed into a ball is then coated with flour, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, then deep fried. The cured meats (salumi) were sparse, with just three extremely thin pieces each of the capicollo, soppressata, and duck for two people, and the soppressata still had the exterior casing attached which I only realized after finding it lingering in my mouth. The meats were tasty and of good quality, but at $1 for each slice, neither very filling nor a great value.


For my entree, I decided on the penne with veal Bolognese, Wakarusa Valley wild mushrooms, and shaved Parmesan with a side of sausage ($16.50 + $3 = $19.50). The penne were store bought, as advertised, cooked “al dente” as they should be, coming in a light ground veal sauce which was a little too soupy. The “shaved Parmesan” tasted like no parmesan (or Parmigiano) I have ever had and was more similar to an Asiago from Sam’s Club than the aged cheese I love more than life itself. Unfortunately, the side of sausage was cut into pieces and added to the pasta instead of coming on a separate plate, which I had expected. The pasta was “OK”, not overly abundant, and certainly no better than anything I have had at Olive Garden (the few times I was forced to eat there). At $16.50, the dish was at least $3 to $4 more than it should be, but that is to be expected at the high rent establishments on Massachusetts Street in Downtown Lawrence.

At $16, my wife had the “wild mushroom and asparagus ravioli with Shiitake mushrooms, vegetable brodo (broth), and Ricotta salata” (salted ricotta cheese) along with a side of sausage ($3). She asked for the sausage on the side, but when the pasta arrived, the sausage were already added to the ravioli for some reason, so we had to send it back. Again, not abundant in size, the ravioli were colorful, but bland and a little too dry until doused with some broth.

The decor is odd for an Italian restaurant, more appropriate for a hamburger joint than a ristorante, but comfortable with a small outdoor patio on the sidewalk with just four tables for those who enjoy people watching, noise, and exhaust fumes. The service was attentive, friendly, and professional, the highlight of our meal.

The bill came to close to $80, so by the time tip was added we were looking at a “C-note” for dinner, not an inexpensive venture by any stretch. Thanks to the Groupon, our portion came to nearly $45 (plus the $30 we paid for the Groupon – a grand total of $75), a much more tolerable total but still quite a bit higher than it was worth. For comparison, a similar dinner at Lidia’s, one of the best Italian restaurants in Kansas City, with two appetizers, two entrees (meat dishes, not pizza/pasta), a bottle of wine and dessert usually comes to a little over $100 including tip. So without the Groupon, Genovese does not even come close to a meal at Lidia’s and is a poor value in my eyes …

CombatCritic Gives Genovese 5 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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 Genovese on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Genovese, Italian, restaurant, Massachusetts, street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Groupon, pasta, pizza, TripAdvisor, antipasti, Yelp, sausage, wine, UrbanSpoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Adriano’s Bistro: An Interesting Concept With a Few Rough Edges


Adriano’s Bistro
240 Lake Dillon Drive
Dillon, CO 80435
Phone: (970) 468-6111

WebAdriano’s Bistro Dillon.com
FacebookAdriano’s Bistro Deli
Prices: $$$$$


NOT Dillon, Colorado

Asking for quality and value in a tourist area restaurant is probably asking for too much and Adriano’s Bistro is not the exception. Looking more like a nightclub than a restaurant from the outside, the interior is somewhat dated with wood paneling, hard wood floors, and basic tables and chairs sans tablecloth.


We were seated quickly by a friend of my youngest son Nick, a Snowmaking Supervisor at Keystone Resort, by the name of Kaylee whom also turned out to be our server. Entrees run from $13.95 for pizza to $25 and up for specialties AND COME WITH APPETIZER, SOUP, AND SALAD INCLUDED. That is where the concept varies from other places, in a good way and bad.

The good news is that in a town full of hungry skiers and young resort workers, a hearty meal at a fair price would work quite well, but on a Thursday night in Dillon, you could almost shoot a cannon through Adriano’s without hitting a soul. They idea was good, but the execution needs some work …

The porchetta (pronounced por-ket-a – $19.95), a traditional Italian dish of rolled, stuffed pork slow-roasted over a wood spit or grill and served with roasted potatoes, but my dish did not resemble any porchetta I have ever seen. First, our appetizer arrived, half of a cocktail size meatball and a small piece of Italian sausage smothered in a red sauce and dwarfed by the bread plate they came on. I tried to make the meatball and sausage last for more than two bites, but failed miserably. The taste was “OK”, but could have been out of the freezer and can from Sam’s Club for all I know.

Porchetta – $19.95

Next came the soup, a cup of cream of vegetable that was thick, savory, and piping hot, probably one of the highlights of the night. The soft loaves of fresh, warm bread kept coming and were a nice accompaniment to the hot soup on a cold winter night. The small, side-salad was good, but minimal with a few fresh greens and shaved carrots topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette.


Fresh Baked Bread

Back to the entrees. As I said, my porchetta did not resemble the traditional variety, but was an interesting and creative approach with sliced pork (and not much at that), onions, and ground sausage in both red and bechamel sauces, supposedly on top of baked ziti (pasta). I found the dish a bit too salty and could not find the ziti which the chef apparently forget to add.


My oldest son had the Fettuccine Alfredo with chicken ($21.95), a basic, simple dish of pasta, cream, and cheeses that is difficult to mess up. The pastas we did see did not look fresh or handmade, but straight out of the bag and I would not be surprised if the sauce came from a can or jar. I am not saying it was bad, only that it was unremarkable for the price.

Margherita Pizza – $13.95

Probably the best value of the night was my youngest son’s Margherita Pizza (named after Queen Margarita of Italy – $13.95), a 12 inch, wood-fired, hand-tossed pizza reminiscent of Roman pizza, thin and crunchy (unlike traditional Neopolitan pizza which is soft and chewy). The sauce and cheese stopped well short of the edge, leaving a thicker-than-needed crust. The mozzarella could have been fresher, but the pizza was well put together and tasty … BRAVO!


Fettuccine Alfredo – $21.95

Toward the end of the evening a large man with a Bronco hat arrived with a friend with a Dodger cap and, based on the attention they received, they were obviously affiliated with the recent Super Bowl losing Denver Broncos. The chef, manager/owner, servers, and other staff came out of the back to fawn over the celebrities, but did not say a word to the other guests, totaling about 7-8 by then, including us. The only one we spoke to all night was Kaylee, but she did a fine job and made up for her supervisor’s lack of hospitality.


With a $22 bottle of wine and three people, the bill came to just under $100 (without tip), a bit much based on the quality and substance of the meal and probably $20 to $25 more than a similar meal would have cost in Denver or Colorado Springs.

CombatCritic Gives Adriano’s Bistro 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Adriano's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Adriano’s Bistro, Adriano, bistro, Italian, pizza, dinner, Dillon, Colorado, Keystone Resort, Silverthorne, Frisco, pasta, salad, appetizer, CombatCritic, TravelValue, combat, travel, value

Which Wich? SandWich!


Which Wich Superior Sandwiches


5102 N. Nevada Ave., Ste. 130
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
(719) 599-WICH
(719) 598-4329 (fax)
universityvillage@whichwich.net

Hours:
Mon-Sat, 10 am – 9pm
Sun, 10 am – 7pm
Order Online

My computer was STILL ON CENTRAL TIME, but I was in Colorado and arrived an hour early to pick-up my online order.


You get to put your sandwich together using a shopping list of ingredients in several categories: bread, meat, cheese, sauces, veggies, hot/cold among others. You can order a half for about $6 (more filling than a foot long Subway) or a whole (about 14″) for just under $12. Sounds like a lot for a sandwich, but we made two meals out of the wholes for a meal at under $6 per person.


We had the grinders one cold, one hot and a toasted meatball. The grinders were identical with salami, pepperoni, and cappiccolo, balsamic vinaigrette, banana peppers, red onion, tomato, and spices. One hot with spinach added after toasting and one cold with lettuce. With significantly more meat than YOU KNOW WHO they were very good and filling. My only suggestion wood be swapping out the pepperoni with mortadella, the more traditional “Italian” grinder choice, but it was scrummy nonetheless.


The meatball sandwich was also good, but MAKE SURE TO SPECIFY “marinara” when you choose sauces or else you will NOT receive a traditional Italian meatball sandwich. This place is great for people who know what they like and how to put a sandwich together, but people like my wife who DO NOT HAVE A CLUE how to cook a meal may have difficulty constructing an appetizing meal.

CombatCritic Gives Which Wich 6 Out of 10 Bombs for SANDWICH VALUE … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Which Wich on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Which Wich, which, wich, sandwich, grinder, Italian, meatball, fast food, food, eat, shop, Colorado Springs, Colorado, marijuana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, combat, travel

My Favorite Restaurant In The Whole World, Owned By A Good Friend … PALERMO RISTORANTE ITALIANO (LA)


PALERMO RISTORANTE ITALIANO (ORIGINAL – LA)
1858 N. Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Neighborhood: Los Feliz
(323) 663-1178
palermorestaurant.net
Prices: $$$$$
While in LA, my hometown, you should try Palermo on Vermont near Sunset Blvd. Tony, the owner, is an old friend and I was one of his ORIGINAL customers when they were in the original shoebox over on Hillhurst. 

The place is a Hollywood landmark with photos of stars all over the walls, including CombatCritic! There’s a small photo of me in Palermo, Tony’s hometown, near the front door and an 8×10 of me in uniform high on the right wall as you go back to the  men’s loo. At least they used to be there! Make sure you tell Tony that LtCol Chris Sorrentino said “HI” if you go! You’ll get the royal treatment. 

The food is excellent, home style Sicilian, not “gourmet”, with thick red sauce, massive portions, and reasonable prices. The veal parmigiana is my favorite and their pizza is TO DIE FOR. Free wine while you wait, which is commonplace between 5:30 and 8pm, and the cannoli are wonderful, possibly ON THE HOUSE if Tony is there and you tell him you know me. Tell him I’ll try to get out there soon and BUON ANNO … a presto amico!

CombatCritic Gives Palermo Ristorante Italiano The Coveted And Rarely Bestowed 10 Out of 10 BombsLE BOMBE SONO BUONE!

Palermo Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Palermo Ristorante Italiano, Italian, restaurant, Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, Los Feliz, food, pizza, pasta, veal, parmigiana, cannoli, Tony, CombatCritic, Chris, Sorrentino, TravelValue

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonna Cucina Rustica Serves Food My Grandmother (Nonna) Would Be Proud Of!


Nonna Cucina Italiana
Calle San Jorge
San Juan, Puerto Rico
(787) 998-6555


$$$$$


San Juan: Nonna Cucina Rustica Italiana is very nice, somewhat small, slightly upscale classic Italian restaurant near downtown and not far from Miramar where we were staying. We found her on Yelp* and the reviews were very positive. We had difficulty finding a restaurant open on Christmas Eve when we arrived in San Juan, so I figured that Christmas day would be even worse. To our surprise, Nonna was open (as were several restaurants we saw – everything else was closed as they should be) and had a table available … “we’ll be right there!”

Waze, our eMap, was a bit off, so we called the restaurant and the manager guided us in (a couple blocks ahead of where Waze took us), sticking her head out the door until she spotted us pulling up. They have Valet Service, but we decided to go through the next signal and found plenty of street parking in the next block.

It is nearly impossible to find a traditional Italian kitchen in the US and we were expecting as much in Puerto Rico … WE WERE VERY PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!

Homemade Mozzarella Caprese ($9) and Vido di Alicante
Carmen, our server, was extremely pleasant even though, still being on “non-island time” and expecting things to move rapidly like they do on the continent, we were hungry and a little impatient to start. I ordered a Spanish Alicante red, a simple yet robust dark red wine ($27), to accompany our meal.

For antipasti, we had the veal polpette (meatballs) and homemade mozzarella, and both were excellent. The polpette (3 for $9 – polpettone, by the way, is Italian meatloaf) came atop a bed of mashed potatoes (polenta would have been a more traditional and excellent choice) and covered with a light tomato sauce. We had to ask for bread and it took a while to arrive, a very small basket of what looked like foccacia sliced into small pieces, and the only disappointment of the night. Local bread on the table is standard in all Italian restaurants, even in Italy, so when I did not see bread on a single table and had to ask for it, I was a bit surprised. It was decent, but too little to accompany the wonderful appetizers, both of which cried out for bread, good bread!

Polpette with Mashed Potatoes and Tomato Sauce – $9
The homemade mozzarella was also delicious. Atop the four rather small, thin slices ($9) of mozzarella were three large cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of arugula, and a hefty dose of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped, toasted hazelnuts. A kind of insalata Caprese, you would never see balsamic vinegar on mozzarella in Italy, but it was very tasty if not filling.

The Casoncelli alla Bergamasca ($17), a light yet complex dish of pasta shells (the size of perogi) was stuffed with sausage and quickly sautéed in a mild butter and sage sauce. They were sublime, the only fault being that the obviously homemade pasta shells were a bit too “al dente” and could have been boiled another minute or two. Otherwise, we were quite pleased.

Casoncelli alla Bergamasca – $17
I ordered the lasagna ($18), which came in its own 7″ x 7″ baking dish with a crispy layer of cheese and béchamel sauce and it was exquisite! More than I needed to eat, it was layered with a hefty portion of minced lamb, lasagna noodles, spinach, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. The lamb tasted very much like lamb, so if you are not into lamb, DO NOT order this dish. I like lamb on occasion, not daily, and was very happy with my choice.

Lamb Lasagna – $18
For dessert, offered by the very sweet, young pastry chef with a huge smile, we had the tiramisu. Untraditional in every way, I had seen it on other tables throughout the night and thought it was an ice cream sunday, but it was not! All of the usual ingredients were there, cookies, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa (accompanied by a shot of espresso to pour over the top), but a scoop of ice cream was also included along with chocolate syrup. It did not taste like any tiramisu I have ever eaten (and at $12 it was the most expensive tiramisu I have eaten), but it was extravagant.

Not cheap by any stretch, Nonna was a delight and extremely good value … BUONISSIMO!

CombatCritic Gives Nonna Cucina Italiana 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Key Words: Nonna, cucina, rustica, Italiana, Italian, restaurant, food, San Juan, Puerto Rico, eat, dinner, delicious, pasta, wine, mozzarella, cheese, tiramisu, CombatCritic

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


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

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


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

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

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


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

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

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

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

Mac and Cheese

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


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


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

The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon














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







Paravicini’s – An Old Colorado City Favorite … Great Food, Reasonable Prices


 Paravicini’s Italian Bistro

Authentic Foods – Great Service – Quality Atmosphere
2802 W Colorado Ave, 
Colorado Springs, CO 80904-2444
(719) 471-8200 

Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm


Paravicinis.com

I have been eating at Paravicini’s since they opened in 2003 and have not been disappointed once. Ted Sexton and Franco  Pisani, the owners, opened their doors, just minutes from our Old Colorado City home, to rave reviews and Franco, the head chef, deserves every one of them. The food is and always has been consistent, reasonably priced, and made with quality ingredients and the wine list robust and reasonable as well.

Appetizers include many of the Italian specialties you would expect, including calamari, fried mozzarella, mussels, bruschetta (pronounced bru-ske-ta, not bru-she-ta as many Americans mistakenly do), and assorted meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables among others. I stopped ordering appetizers a long time ago because you can expect an abundance of food from ordering the main course including pasta (full meals or as sides), meats (veal, chicken and steak prepared in an abundance of sauces), salad (served family style – Ceasar is $2 extra per person) and fresh baked bread (keep bringing it!).


Pastas include many regulars including spaghetti and meatballs (a dish you will never see in Italy), manicotti, lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, and gnocchi (small potato dumplings) in portions even the biggest eaters will not be disappointed by, but the meat dishes are not to be missed!

The veal dishes are the best value on the menu, just a buck or two more than the pastas and chicken dishes, served in a variety of sauces second to none. My favorites, not on the menu but available nonetheless, are the Veal (vitello in Italian) Saltimbocca (veal scallopini – medallions – covered with prosciutto and mozzarella, then baked and served in a lemon butter and sage sauce over angelhair pasta) and the Veal Capricosa (veal medallions covered with mozzarella then baked and served with sauteed prosciutto, mushrooms, and onion over angelhair). Other favorites are the Veal Toscano (veal scaloppini sautéed with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, finished in a roasted garlic cream sauce), Veal Porcini (sautéed veal scaloppini in a porcini mushroom brandy cream sauce), and for those who enjoy hot and spicy, the Veal Giuseppe (veal scaloppini sautéed with spicy Italian sausage, onions, hot and sweet peppers, capers, olive, garlic & olive oil). All veal dishes are between $16.95 and $18.95 and served with salad, fresh, hot bread, and pasta, very reasonable for the quality of the milk-fed veal and portion sizes.  


The wine selection is moderate and varied, with glasses or bottles available at a fair price. A full bar is available for those who wish to partake.

Desserts, which I have been able to order only on a few occasions because of the robustness of the meals, are excellent and include classic tiramisu and delicious cannoli (tubular stuffed with a sweet ricotta cream), a specialty of the island of Sicily, my wife’s original home.

Paravicini’s, a name that is actually a bit redundant due to the fact that words ending in “i” are always plural in the Italian language, is a Colorado Springs treasure. Located in historic Old Colorado City, offers a wonderful American-style (Italians would never think of eating meat and pasta together) Italian meal with the opportunity to stroll through the historic district after dinner to digest before going on your way…buon appetito!







CombatCritic gives Paravicini’s a whopping nine out of ten bombs for quality, value, and consistency … BOMBS ARE GREAT!

Cascone’s Italian Restaurant – Good, Consistent American-Style Italian Food, Large Portions at MODERATE Prices (April 2013 Update)


Cascone’s (North Oak)

3733 North Oak Trafficway
Kansas City, MO 64116
(816) 454-7977


www.Cascones.com


$$$ (PREVIOUSLY $$)

Ponte Vecchio – Florence, Italy
I am an Italian-American, was raised by first generation immigrants from the hills between Napoli (Naples) and Bari on the Adriatic Sea, lived in Italy for three years on assignment with the U.S. Air Force, and married an Italian (Sicilian to be precise), so we travel there often to see family and enjoy the wonderful cuisine.

Traditional Italian food (in the old country) only resembles what we call “Italian” here and you have not lived until you have eaten a traditional Italian meal…in Italy. Dinner in Italy normally does not start until 9PM and rarely ends before midnight. Starting with the antipasto, you may have assorted fresh meats and cheeses, prosciutto e melone (cured Italian ham from Parma and melone which is Italian cantaloupe – a traditional antipasto during the warm summer months), or, my favorite, insalata caprese (fresh buffalo mozzarella with bright red tomato slices drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with fresh basil leaves). Fresh homemade bread always accompanies your meal, but you may be charged a “coperto” (cover) of one or two euros for the bread and place setting. Primo (or the first dish) is next and usually consists of soup or pasta, an infinite variety of freshly made pastas mixed with an equally infinite number of sauce combinations. All the while, you sip bottled water (with or without gas…bubbles) and some of the most delicious wines in the world, usually locally made, if not on the premises. Next comes the secondo (or main dish), usually meat or fish, simply prepared and accompanied by contorni (vegetables, potatoes, and salad…yes, salad comes with the main dish, not before your meal). Italians would never think of eating pasta and meat (or fish) on the same plate, so the traditions you see in the U.S. (e.g. Olive Garden…excuse me while a vomit a little in my mouth) DEFINITELY did not originate in Italy. Finally, a digestivo, a liquor such as grappa, amaretto, or, my favorite, limoncello, is served before cafe (what you call espresso (cappuccino is never drunk after morning and is considered a woman’s drink) and dolce (dessert), usually something simple like fruit and cheese or biscotti (cookies).


My wife and I have been going to Cascone’s for three years and have never had a bad meal. Some were not as good as others were, but never bad. My Sicilian spouse has grown accustomed to the American version and, even though nontraditional (in her eyes anyway), Cascone’s is one of her favorites. Strong praise indeed from an Italian citizen.



We inevitably arrive on Sunday evening and the soup selection (all entrees come with soup or salad and a loaf of fresh baked bread) is very limited, rather predictable, and mostly boring..chicken of one sort or another with noodles or rice.


The salad with the house dressing (an olive oil and vinaigrette) is always good, but inconsistent. Sometimes you get olives, artichoke heart, and croutons, sometimes not. I order the blue cheese crumbles on the side and get a twist of fresh cracked pepper. Very good salad and the great bread makes up for the lack of consistency in ingredients (croutons for example). … UPDATE … THE NEW MENU ) AS OF APRIL 2013) IS NOW ALA CARTE (AGAIN … WE HAVE BEN THROUGH THIS BEFORE) AND SOUP OR SALAD ARE NOW EXTRA WITH A HOUSE SALAD GOING FOR AN ADDITIONAL $3.50 WITH AN ENTREE.  INSTEAD OF GETTING THE WARM LOAF OF SESAME SEED TOPPED OF WARM, CRUSTY BREAD IS NOW A COUPLE OF PIECES IN A BASKET … BOOOOOO!

The antipasto selection is limited and non-traditional, including the “Italian Nachos” a huge concoction that looks filling, but not appetizing. With the size of the entrees and the soup/salad, you will not need an antipasto anyway. If you do, get the steamed artichoke (when it is in-season) and share it with your guest.
I love veal and their veal parmigiana is superb. Pounded thin, lightly breaded, and pan fried, you get two large escallops on a bed of spaghetti (I order the mastacioli instead, a type of large penne). I do not like that the meat covers the pasta and inevitably have to dig the pasta out to scrape enough sauce together to cover the mastacioli, sometimes having to ask for extra marinara to cover the white bits. The servers are skimpy on the hand grated parmigianno-reggiano cheese, so I usually have them fill up my bread plate and scatter the cheese as I see fit.  


… UPDATE  UPDATE  UPDATE … 


EVEN THOUGH THE MENU HAS CHANGED TO ALA CARTE AGAIN, AND PRICES HAVE GONE UP, PORTIONS ARE SMALLER.  MY MASTACIOLI LAST NIGHT WAS NOT DRAINED WELL AND THE SAUCE WAS WATERY.  CASCONE’S MARINARA SAUCE IS VERY GOOD, BUT WATER, UNFORTUNATELY, DOES NOT ADD TO THE FLAVOR … ANOTHER BOOOOOOO!


I have had the veal marsala and it is not like any marsala dish I have ever tried. They use green (bell) peppers and onions in addition to the more traditional mushrooms, a combination that does not quite work with a delicate marsala sauce. I would not bother with this dish if I were you.


The chicken spedieni is very good and bountiful, but everything comes with pasta and marinara sauce, so if you want alfredo or olive oil and garlic, which would be more appropriate, be prepared to pay extra.

The pasta dishes are good and my wife usually orders the tortelonni Savina Maria, large shells stuffed with veal and cheese in a white sauce with mushrooms, peas, and pieces of prosciutto (cannot tell if it is cotto or crudo). It is very good and enough for one very hungry person of two light eaters (be prepared to be charged if you share, they charge for everything not priced on the menu). She also likes the Pasta Asiago, bowtie pasta in a crème sauce with broccoli and mushrooms (and chicken if you want to pay extra). The Pasta Asiago comes with tomatoes, but my wife is intolerant to tomatoes (can you believe it, an Italian woman that does not eat tomatoes, drink wine, or cook!).  There are a couple pizza choices (two to three depending  on the menu) and are decent, being the single serving (one person) size and much smaller than their Naepolitano (from Naples, Italy) cousins…VERY DISTANT COUSINS!
I have never had room for dessert, but the choices are traditional and look good so go for it if you have room.
The wine list (and menu) change as often my brother’s underwear, so do not become too attached to any particular maker or vintage. The house wines are pretty good and come in various varieties and at $6 per glass, are a relative bargain … 


… UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE … 


We returned for dinner on April 26th, 2013 and the menu had changed once again! THE WINE LIST IS VERY DIFFERENT … WINE BY THE GLASS ARE NOW $8 TO $11 AND UP!  BOTTLES MAY HAVE RISEN, BUT ARE NOW A MUCH BETTER VALUE.  MANY “UPSCALE” RESTAURANTS CAN GET AWAY WITH $8 TO $11 GLASSES OF WINE, BUT CASCONE’S IS NOT THAT KIND OF RESTAURANT AND THESE PRICES ARE GOING TO HURT WINE SALES BECAUSE CASCONE’S HAS A LARGE SENIOR CITIZEN CUSTOMER BASE AND IN TODAY’S ECONOMY, FOLKS ARE NOT GOING TO PAY THE EQUIVALENT OF $60 FOR A $25 TO $30 BOTTLE OF WINE. 



As I said, we have been going to Cascone’s practically every Sunday for five years, so you would think the wait staff would know us by name by now. They do not. The receptionist is quite friendly and knows us by face, but do not expect to be called by name by any of the staff, no matter how long you have been going there. Service is friendly enough and things get done on time (mostly), but they do not chit chat and seem to care less who you are. After all, I am there for food and companionship with my table mates, not to make friends with the wait staff. 


… UPDATE  UPDATE  UPDATE …

OUR SERVER LAST NIGHT WAS WONDERFUL AND VERY FRIENDLY AND ACCOMMODATING, EVEN THOUGH SHE NEVER TOLD US HER NAME … THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND EXCELLENT SERVICE … WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS!

CombatCritic NOW gives Cascone’s (North Oak) ONLY 6 out of 1o BOMBS … BOMBS in this case are good!


CombatCritic’s BOMB ratings are based on “VALUE” … quality of the food, service, ambience compared to the prices, so the drastic price changes in the case of Cascone’s dropped their score one BOMB … SORRY FREINDS!

Cascone's Italian on Urbanspoon

On the Front Lines in the Battle Against Overpriced Food