Come Down From Your Roost For Some (Pricey) Hooch, Breakfast, Or Lunch


The Roost

920 Massachusetts Street

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone (785) 843-1110

Web 920mass.com

Prices $$$$$

Biscuits and Gravy – $7?

After 36 hours without food and cameras shoved every which way (I’ll spare you the gruesome details), I thought it was time for some carbs and protein … the biscuits and gravy tasted great, although quite pricey at $7 for a full order, the biscuits being rather small with barely enough gravy to cover them completely. UNSAT! 

Kansan – $8

I had the Kansan ($8) with eggs, bacon, home fries and English muffin on my first two visits. It was good, not spectacular, and a fair sized serving, but the bacon was a tad too crispy even for my taste. Being primarily a breakfast joint, they have very few popular or traditional options to choose from (can you say skillets?), so on my most recent (and likely last) visit, I ordered an omelette ($6) with bacon ($1), onion, peppers, and mushrooms (50 cents each for a total of $8.50). When the server asked me what kind of toast I wanted, I asked if they had English muffins and she said that they did. What she failed to tell me was that there was a 50 cent up-charge, a fact I spotted only after the check arrived (see bill below). The 50 cent English muffin dominated the plate, dwarfing the small, yet tasty, omelette and a smattering of bland, unseasoned fried potatoes (see photo – objects are smaller than they actually appear).

The ALL YOU CAN DRINK self-service coffee bar ($2) is the The Roost’s highlight, a superb selection of four premium coffees with your normal choices of additions (half-and-half, skim and soy milk, cinnamon, sugar) available as needed.

Omelette – $8.50 + 50 Cents for an English Muffin

The service is adequate, not bad, not great, with little interaction and a bit of a “high brow” feel. A breakfast place should have a warmer, more inviting, friendlier ambience, especially in a small college town. For example, when I asked to barista to replenish the half-and-half at the coffee bar on our most recent visit, all I received was a scowl as she was poured a complimentary glass of alcohol by a cohort at 11:30 in the morning.

Their prices are quite high on most things, so I have to deduct a couple bombs when it comes to “value”.  For example, $5 should be the maximum price for biscuits and gravy no matter how big the order is or how good they are and if you are going to up-charge customers, they should be told in advance in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not they choose to pay the difference.

Oddly enough, for a place that is only open for breakfast and lunch (7am-3pm), The Roost has a bar and will serve you rather expensive cocktails ($7-$8) or wine ($5), so if you are looking for a mid-day buzz along with your biscuits and gravy, this is the place for you. But based on the high prices, small portions, uninspiring cuisine, and mediocre service, I think I will keep trying to find a decent breakfast place in Lawrence. I have my doubts.

CombatCritic Gives The Roost 4 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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

Title:  Come Down From Your Roost For Some (Pricey) Hooch, Breakfast, Or Lunch

Key Words: The Roost, roost, breakfast, lunch, bar, coffee, egg, biscuit, gravy, bacon, omelette, food, menu, Massachusetts, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

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Der Essen Platz … A Taste of Bavaria in Central Missouri


Der Essen Platz, Camdenton, Missouri

If visiting the Lake of the Ozarks, as far as restaurants essen1are concerned, I highly recommend a trip back to Camdenton and Der Essen Platz (German for “the Eating Place”) for some excellent and affordable German fare. They have a small, but affordable wine and beer list, and the food is excellent. I started with the Weihenstephaner Korbinian Dopple Bock ($6.50 – .5 litre), a dark, rich, robust beer with hints of chocolate and coffee, it was excellent. The soups are very good and homemade. I tried the German tomato soup which was better than most tomato soups, but nothing I would order again. The schnitzel dishes are amazing.  I had the schnitzel cordon bleu (pork cordon bleu – two breaded cutlets with ham and cheese in the middle, then baked and covered with a cream mushroom sauce) and my wife had the Jaegerschnitzel (pork cutlet served with Hunter’s Sauce, a savory brown gravy made with Jaegermeister and mushrooms).

Dinners are accompanied by soup or salad, warm homemade bread, and vegetables, potatoes, or spaetzel (a German potato dish similar to gnocchi only smaller). The Bavarian wheat loaf is homemade and delicious, so do not be too shy to ask for another! I also tried the German potato pancakes with hunter sauce (normally they come with applesauce, but I prefer the savory pancake with gravy).  essen2

Unfortunately, we were so full by the time dinner was over, we did not have time for dessert, but I am sure they are amazing as well.  Owners Noelle (the chef) and Daniel (front of house) are warm, friendly, and helpful, so do not be afraid to ask questions.  And do n ot forget the view over one branch of the expansive Lake of the Ozarks, a romantic setting for a special occasion or a weekend dinner … Guten Appetit!

CombatCritic Gives Der Essen Platz 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

9bombs

Title: Der Essen Platz … A Taste of Bavaria in Central Missouri

Key Words: Lake of the Ozarks Camdenton Der Essen Platz German Weihenstephaner Korbinian Dopple Bock schnitzel pork cordon bleu cutlet Jaegermeister spaetzel Bavarian wheat loaf German potato pancakes hunter

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


CombatCritic’s TravelValue eZine has recently been averaging over 145 hits a day. Not bad for a small, unassuming food and travel blog from America’s Heartland:

Thanks to all of our followers, visitors, and fans for your loyalty and trust … 

FOLLOW ME TO TRAVELVALUE!

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Front Door & Tall Ceilings

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

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


HOOAH … It’s the “BOMB”!



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



Trattoria da Giorgio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy

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


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











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

La Vinaina Firenze

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

Prices:    € €  


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

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


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


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



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

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


http://www.CombatCritic.com

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







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

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!



Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

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


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


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


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

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



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

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

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

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

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.













Buon Appetito … A Presto!

Rancho Grande Cantina – Parkville, Missouri … UPDATE


Rancho Grande Cantina – June 2013 UPDATE


Price: $$$$$ – All entrees below $15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


11015 NW Mo-45
Kansas CityMO 64152 

Map

Rancho Grande Cantina on Urbanspoon

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

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


Rancho Grande Cantina UPDATE


Price: $$$$$ – All entrees below $15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



11015 NW Mo-45
Kansas CityMO 64152 

Map

Rancho Grande Cantina on Urbanspoon

I Ristoranti di Firenze…The Restaurants of Florence, Italy



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

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

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

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

HOOAH…it’s the “BOMB”!


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


Trattoria da Giorgio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

La Vinaina Firenze

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

Prices:    € €  


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

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

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

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

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

http://www.CombatCritic.blogspot.com

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






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

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!


Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

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


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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.







Buon Appetito…A Presto!