Fuggedaboudit? Not Authentic Italian, Some Poor Execution, But Don’t Fugeddaboudit Just Yet


Morningstar’s New York Pizza
4931 6th Street, Suite 106
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: (785) 856-6973
Prices: $$$$
Calzone – $8.00

I was here last Autumn with a friend for a calzone, which was actually pretty well done, so I decided to try it again with my Sicilian-born wife. For a city of nearly 100,000, it is appalling that Lawrence does not have a single decent. authentic Italian restaurant. A Carrabba’s would even be a breath of fresh air, but the tight-knit city “powers that be” seem to be pretty good at discouraging innovation and “chains” in favor of “mom and pop” establishments. Unfortunately, none of the moms and pops seem to have a clue how to run a decent restaurant, Italian or otherwise. Anyway, all that being said, Morningstar’s is not bad.

Garlic Knots – $3
We tried the garlic knots ($3) which came with a side of red sauce. Baked balls of pizza dough infused with garlic apparently, I could barely taste the garlic and the “knots” were not baked long enough, a little too chewy … too bad!
 
Jumbo Combo – $9.75

The prices are decent except for the pizzas which are a bit pricey, so my wife ordered The New Yorker calzone ($7.25) with mozzarella, ricotta & parmigiana cheese, no sauce (she is allergic to tomatoes – some Italian!), with mushrooms added ($.50 extra). She was quite happy with the calzone. The dough was baked to perfection and there were just enough ingredients, so my wife (who has lived in Naples, Italy – the home of the best pizza in the World – most of her life) was actually impressed. Bravo!

 
Meatball

I wanted to try a few different things, so I got the Jumbo Combo ($9.75) which came with chicken parmigiana, eggplant rollatine, stuffed pasta shells, a side of spaghetti, and a meatball. I asked for the baked manicotti instead of the stuffed shells and they were happy to comply. Unfortunately, when my dish arrived I was a bit dismayed to see everything crammed into a casserole dish. The chicken parmigiana was actually cubes of breaded chicken piled on one end of the dish and the manicotti and eggplant rollatine were on the other end, layered one on top of the other. The whole dish was covered with sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked in the oven. The side of spaghetti was not well drained, so it was a bit too watery. Too bad because the sauce was decent. With no meatball in sight, I asked the server where it was, but she said the dish did not come with one. After informing her that the menu indicated that a meatball did come with the dish, she scurried off and brought me one post haste. In all, the dish was a bit of a mess, but it was actually not that bad. It could have been better presented and would have been much more palatable had the chicken, manicotti, and eggplant been separated on a large plate, but with a name like Morningstar you cannot expect authentic Italian dishes.

Side of Spaghetti
Alas, still no authentic Italian food in Lawrence, but Morningstar’s does a fair job of trying. Their prices are fair and the service is decent, but it looks more like a sports bar than an Italian restaurant. The old world ambience just is not there. As Morningstar’s would say: “fuggedaboudit”, but not just yet. We will likely be back because my wife liked the calzone (as did I on my first visit), so maybe I will try one of their sandwiches next time. I would also offer suggestions for improvement if invited because I will do ANYTHING to help a local business as well as my chances of having a decent Italian restaurant meal without having to drive 4o miles. HOOAH!
 
CombatCritic Gives Morningstar’s New York Pizza 5 Bombs Out Of 10 (2 1/2 Stars) … More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Fuggedaboudit? Not Authentic Italian, Some Poor Execution, But Don’t Fugeddaboudit Just Yet

Key Words: Morningstar’s New York Pizza, Morningstar, KU, basketball, Lawrence, Kansas, New York, pizza, pasta, calzone, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

 
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100,000+ Visitors … That’s Our Goal!


With 2,867 blog views last month, and growing exponentially daily, we are on-track to have over 100,000+ views in the next year thanks to you!
 
The phenomenal growth and positive karma since my trip to meet His Holiness is a wonderful reminder of the quality, objective, unbiased products we provide, all free of charge, to our readers.
 
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Title: 100,000+ Visitors … That’s Our Goal!

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Oh-Boy, A Po’Boy … “Oy Vey!”


Terrebonne Po’Boys
805 Vermont St
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 856-3287
Web: terrebonnepoboys.com: 
Prices: $$$$
 


I had been meaning to try Terrebonne for some time, but I try not to eat fast food and sandwiches that often, just never having gotten around to going there. My Yelp friend Scott T and I decided to get together for lunch, trying the relatively new Taco Stand on 8th Street. However, when we arrived the door was locked and the lights off … they are closed on Mondays! So, we headed over to Terrebonne.

The place is quaint with a chalkboard menu on the wall, a few small 1950’s diner-style tables and chairs inside and more tables outside if you are the type that enjoys Lawrence’s steamy summer days. You order from the counter, pay, and they bring your order to your table. The guy at the counter was not particularly friendly, not rude, but he did not go out of his way to make us feel welcome being my first visit.

The reuben and cheesesteak both sounded good, but being my first time and a NOLA/Cajun/Creole-style establishment, I decided to go with their signature po’boy. I ordered the catfish po’boy ($7) with all the trimmings and Scott got the alligator po’boy and an order of red beans and rice.

About 15 minutes later our order arrived. The bread, about eight inches worth, was fresh, lightly toasted on the outside and soft inside. The catfish breading was not as light and flaky or as spicy as I would expect from a Cajun restaurant, but it was “OK”. There were several small pieces of fish rather than one long fillet, making the sandwich difficult to eat and forcing me to have to put the pieces back in the sandwich as they inevitably fell out over and over again. The fish was decent, but a few pieces were uncharacteristically “fishy” tasting, a taste I try to avoid and one of the main reasons I do not order fish in the Midwest. The lettuce and tomato rounded out the po’boy nicely, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed overall by the sandwich and its price.

A $7 sandwich should impress and fill you, neither of which occurred on this occasion. By the time you order a sandwich, a side, and a drink, you are looking at a $12-$14 tab, a tad high for lunch at a sandwich place in my opinion.

CombatCritic Gives Terrebonne Po’Boys 5 Out Of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good In This Case!


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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic

View my food journey on Zomato!
 
Title: Oh-Boy, A Po’Boy … “Oy Vey”

Key Words: Terrebonne Po’Boys, Terrebonne, po’boys, po’boy, po-boy, po, boy, sandwich, Cajun, New Orleans, Lawrence, Kansas, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Mystified By BurgerFi’s Small-Fry Burger


BURGERFI

Hot Dogs, American (Traditional), Burgers
918 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: (785) 856-0824
Web: BurgerFi.com
Prices: $$$$

VegiFi Burger – $6.95

Reviews I had read were mixed, but having been out of the country since they opened, I had to give them a shot. Here is the low-down …

Pros
 
1) Clean, inviting atmosphere
 
2) Prices seemed reasonable at first glance
 
3) Service was friendly and efficient 
 
4) Burgers, fries, and onion rings tasted great
 
5) Beer special, $2 for a cup of IPA, was a bargain
 
6) Bathrooms were clean


Cons
 
1) $27, not including $4 for the beer, is not exactly cheap for two burgers, a small order of fries and small onion rings
 
2) My $10 burger was ridiculously small, somewhere between a White Castle “Slider” and a McDonald’s double cheeseburger


If you pay $10 for a burger, you should expect to need both hands to eat it. Mine was a one-hander and, other than Whitey One-Bites, the smallest hamburger I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the two cons overshadow the six pros in this case and, therefore …

My $10 Burger
CombatCritic Gives BurgerFi A Middle Of The Road 5 Out Of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
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MENU
Title: Mystified By BurgerFi’s Small-Fry Burger

Key Words: BURGERFI, burger, fi, hamburger, french, fry, onion, Massachusetts, street, Mass, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

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

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort


Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 

Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant’Ambrogio (Far Right)

We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant’Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.

Living Room

We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!

Main Bedroom

This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?

Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


Kitchen

The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area’s temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.

Entry and Kitchen

The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (open 7:30am – 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.

Bathroom


The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!

Bedroom 2


At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.

 
CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic’s “Definitive Florence (Italy)” …

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing
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Main Entry


Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)
Zomato – “Super Foodie”
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Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A “Little Florentine Retreat” For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant’Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide, 

Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Il Pizzaiuolo
Via dei Macci 113R
50122 Florence, Italy
Near Mercato San’Ambrogio
Phone: +39 055 241171
 

I wrote an extensive review in 2012 on Il Pizzaiuolo, so I will not bore you with too many details or flowery prose. Leave it to say that in parts of Italy, Rome and northward, good pizza is hard to come by. Most visitors do not realize that this is authentic pizza napoletana (not “Napolean”, he was the squirt of a French dictator), equaling some of the best pizzerias in Naples (Napoli), the home of pizza and the best in the world.

Just around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and a five minute walk from Santa Croce, Il Pizzaiuolo has only around 15 tables, so the place is small and hard to find a seat after 8pm. Beside pizza, they have starters, pasta, meat, and fish dishes, but pizza is their specialty. On this visit, one of many in the past, we decided to try their frittura (€8 – fried things), including arancini di riso (rice balls), croquette di patate (potato corquettes), and montanare (fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce). Their were just two of each (six pieces total) and a disappointment compared to what you would get in a Naples pizzeria for the same price (€8 gets you 25 pieces of the same). They were good, but there should have been more or it should have been much cheaper (€3 to €4).
I had a Neapolitan classic, pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte cheese, sausage, and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic – €10) and it was wonderful. My wife’s pizza quattro formaggio (four cheeses – €8) was also excellent with loads of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta, and provola cheese. As is usual in pizza napoletana, the dough was thin and chewy, only crisp enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy and with little splotches of burnt crust from the fiery wood-fired oven. Perfetto!
 

My only complaints, other than the women’s toilet being rather filthy on this visit (my wife told me, I did not see for myself) are the fact that you can only get wine by the glass or bottle, no liters or half-liters and that the prices are a little steep compared to Naples, but those are small discrepancies when you are eating un’oltima pizza napoletana (excellent Neapolitan pizza) in Northern Italy!

CombatCritic Il Pizzaiuolo 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!

 

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)”
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Title: Il Pizzaiuolo: This “Pizza Maker” Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Key Words: Il Pizzaiuolo, pizzaiuolo, pizza, pizzeria, Naples, napoletana, Neopolitan, Florence, Italy, Firenze, restaurant, ristorante, menu, Sant’Ambrogio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, guide

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


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
 

Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations


Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Web: bencista.com
Prices: €€€
This review is on the restaurant only.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá’s restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7’s stop “Regresso” following the signs.

The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak – €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).

The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife’s pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother’s house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife’s dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.

While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.


When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.

The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.

For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.

For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.

Recommendations for a better experience:
1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question

Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert – pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro’s superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …
CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

The “Value” Leader In Travel … Follow Me To TravelValue!


C.T. Sorrentino, aka CombatCritic, is a world traveler, having visited 41 countries and counting. An amateur chef, he studied for 3 years in Pozzuoli, Italy and is a published author of reviews, editorials, articles, a popular blog, and is the producer of a successful YouTube channel. 

On the Front Lines in the Battle Against Mediocre, Overpriced Travel, Food and Accommodation … Follow Me To TravelValue

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CombatCritic is Yelp ELITE ’14 and ’15, TripAdvisor “TOP CONTRIBUTOR”, Booking.com “GENIUS” and Foursquare “INSIDER”

Title: The “Value” Leader In Travel … Follow Me To TravelValue!

Key Words: YouTube, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, follow, me, world, destination, restaurant, hotel, review, reviews, menu, food, critic, Italy, India, Europe, Asia, 

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

One Of The Best (Not Tex-Mex) Mexican Restaurants in Lawrence … Not Much To Brag About!


Mi Ranchito
707 W. 23rd Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66046

Phone: (785) 727-2005

www.miranchitokc.com

Prices: $$$$$

 The Infamous “Bar” … My Home Away From Home                     

To be the BEST MEXICAN FOOD IN LAWRENCE the bar must not be set very high as I have yet to have a Mexican meal as good as the worst I have eaten in Texas, where I was a resident for 20 years, and not a single one that resembles Tex-Mex. On that note, let me add my two cents …

The place was nearly full on a Sunday night, a rarity in Lawrence, particularly among Mexican restaurants, and normally a good sign. We were steered into the bar for some reason, asked if we wanted to sit at a “high-top” even though there were booths available in the bar and tables available in the restaurant. Maybe I look like a lush, but I think it was primarily because there was nobody in the bar and the bartender needed something to do. The lush that I am, I ordered the margarita special ($7.99), described as containing “El Jimador” tequila and not bad although the “20 ounces” were more like 13, coming in the standard “cheater” glass that looks big on the outside … well, you know what I mean.

The chips and salsa arrived rather quickly, the chips being far too thin and very likely out of a bag along with a red salsa and an odd looking yellowish-green sauce. The salsa was not bad with obvious hints of fresh cilantro. The other, described by one reviewer as a “lemon avocado” sauce, was strange, unlike anything I have ever had in a Mexican restaurant, but again not bad.

Guacamole and Espinaca “Dips”

We decided on the Espinaca Cheese Dip ($5.99), a blend of hot cheese, white onions, tomatoes and spinach, and the guacamole ($6.99). The guacamole was described as “fresh and buttery avocados, cilantro, jalapeños, onions, lime juice and special spices” on the menu, but I found no evidence of either cilantro or jalapeño (or butter for that matter). I thought the price was a bit steep compared to other places in town, but the serving was large and the guacamole pretty good, not nearly as good as mine however. The “espinaca” (spinach) cheese dip had too little spinach, much less name the dish after it, to mention and seemed to be more like your average chili con queso minus the chili, but it was big and decent. My primary complaint being that the chips were too thin to withstand either “dip”, falling apart when submerged in either and resulting in a basket full of crumbles with very few whole chips.

$7.99 … Really?

Like most Italians my wife dislikes spicy food, especially Mexican (one of my favorites), ordering her standard “cheese quesadilla” … boring! At $7.99, I have to say that this was one of the most pitiful quesadillas I have ever seen and a terrible value. Charging $8 for a (small) flour tortilla, a couple ounces of cheese, a spoonful of sour cream and even less guacamole, and a thimbleful of pico de gallo (which was noticeably missing from the plate even though it is on the menu) should be a crime, highway robbery, but it’s not, so there you go.

As always, on my first visit to a Mexican restaurant, I ordered tacos and enchiladas to see if they could get even the simplest of recipes right, in this case el numero nueve, the #9 combo, with a burrito, taco, and enchilada, “machaca” (shredded beef) all. I have to say that the taco was the best I have had in recent years, having lived in the Midwest since 2008, being large, stuffed with plenty of machaca, deep fried, then topped with lettuce, cheese, and even some diced tomatoes. It would have been nearly perfect if the taco had a couple of thin slices of avocado on it, but we had plenty of guacamole leftover so it was not an issue, although a very good idea. The enchilada and burrito were both equally stuffed with shredded beef, but uninspiring with little to no cheese and smothered seemingly in the same red (enchilada?) sauce. The rice and beans were minimal, sprinkled with kernels of corn oddly enough and two deep-fried masa de maiz (corn meal dough) balls, another novelty … could it be Tex-Mex … not! They were all “OK”, but the taco was the star of the show and likely a staple if we return.

The prices were comparably a bit steep, except for the combinations oddly enough, the service good, and the food decent, maybe even one of the BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN LAWRENCE, but that is nothing to brag about!

CombatCritic Gives Mi Ranchito (Lawrence) 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … VERY AVERAGE … More Bombs Are Better!

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic, Including Mi Ranchito, On Yelp And TripAdvisor Along With Many Other Reviews And More!


Title: One Of The Best (Not Tex-Mex) Mexican Restaurants in Lawrence … Not Much To Brag About!

Key Words: Mi Ranchito, mi, ranchito, Mexican, restaurant, food, taco, enchilada, burrito, guacamole, Lawrence, Kansas, 23rd, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Nein … Oops … Nine Dollars For A Glass Of Wine?


Grünauer (Austrian)
101 West 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone: 816.283.3234
 
Hours:
Mon-Thur 11:30am – 10pm
Fri & Sat 11:30am – 11pm
Sun 11:30am – 9pm
Wunderbar 11:30am – 1am
Happy Hour 3-6pm & 10pm – Close
 
Prices: $$$$$
 
We found Grünauer quite by accident while visiting Lidia’s, one of our favorites in KC and owned by Lidia Bastianich of PBS fame. Grünauer is just west of Lidia’s in the same large parking lot immediately behind Union Station.  The main dining room is large and modern with warm tones, big booths, and plenty of glass. We were well received and escorted to our table. The service excellent, a team of servers and assistants ensure things come and go efficiently with a smile.
 
Wine is a bit pricey, starting at $9 for a glass and bottles from $38, so you may want to stick to beer if on a budget.  The meals are large and filling, so soup, salad, or appetizer are only for those with the biggest appetites. Not knowing this, I ordered the Käse und Biersuppe ($6), a smoked gouda and beer soup that is a decadent as the name implies and a wonderful way to start a meal.
 
My wife ordered the Ksesptzle ($15.00), a rich, creamy spatzle dish made with swiss cheese and topped with crispy onions. The spatzle was cooked to perfection and the sauce thick and flavorful. The crispy onions were more than a garnish, adding some texture and complimentary flavor to the dish. The Ksesptzle was delicious, a large portion of cheesy goodness that satisfied my wife’s sensitive vegetarian palate. 
 
Having lived in Europe for six years and spending a great deal of time in Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary where good schnitzel is common, I could not resist the Cordon Bleu ($22.00), a breaded pork cutlet stuffed with smoked ham and swiss cheese and pan fried to a golden brown. Nor could I resist ordering a side of their rich and decadent Jäger sauce ($4) made with its namesake Jägermeister, mushrooms, and cream to top my cordon bleu. $22 is a bit steep for pork, especially considering you have to pay $4 extra for a side, in my case mashed potatoes, but the schnitzel was tender and juicy, filled with ham and gooey cheese as advertised.  When topped with the Jäger sauce it was as good as any I have had abroad, and I have had more than a few, but by the time I added the price of the entrée to the potatoes and the sauce the total came to $30, far more than I have ever paid for any similar meal in Europe.
 
Grünauer’s food is excellent, the service flawless, and the environment comfortable, but the prices are a bit excessive.  However, due to the dearth of German restaurants in Kansas City, and Grünauer is as close as you are going to get to authentic German in this area, what other options do we have?  You can drive a couple hours southeast to Camdenton for a meal at Der Essen Platz where the food is just as good and the prices half of Grünauer’s, but that is not plausible.  So, had my cordon bleu meal (including sauce and side) been in the $18 to $24 range with wine starting at a reasonable $6 per glass, I would have given them 8 Bombs, but they are not and I did not … 
 
CombatCritic Gives Grünauer 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
 

Grunauer on Urbanspoon

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube
Title: Nein … Oops … Nine Dollars For A Glass Of Wine?
 
Key Words: Grünauer, Austrian, restaurant, Austria, German, schnitzel, spaetzel, spätzle, wine, beer, menu, food, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Kansas City, Missouri, MO, Yelp, TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon

One Of The Best (Not Tex-Mex) Mexican Restaurants in Lawrence? Not Much To Brag About!


Mi Ranchito
707 W. 23rd Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66046
Phone: (785) 727-2005
www.miranchitokc.com

Hours:
Sunday-Thurs 11am-10pm
Fri & Sat 11am-11pm

Prices: $$$$$
The Infamous “Bar” … My Home Away From Home

To be the BEST MEXICAN FOOD IN LAWRENCE the bar must not be set very high as I have yet to have a Mexican meal as good as the worst I have eaten in Texas, where I was a resident for 20 years, and not a single one comes close to resembling Tex-Mex. On that note, let me add my two cents …

 
The place was nearly full on a Sunday night, a rarity in Lawrence, particularly among Mexican restaurants, and normally a good sign. We were steered into the bar for some reason, asked if we wanted to sit at a “high-top” even though there were booths available in the bar and tables available in the restaurant. Maybe I look like a lush, but I think it was primarily because there was nobody in the bar and the bartender needed something to do. The lush that I am, I ordered the margarita special ($7.99), described as containing “El Jimador” tequila and not bad although the “20 ounces” were more like 13, coming in the standard “cheater” glass that looks big on the outside … well, you know what I mean. The house “grande” margarita ($6.25) was a better value, coming in the “20 ounce” glass but like its El Jimador cousin, a bit weak in terms of alcohol content.
 
The chips and salsa arrived rather quickly, the chips being far too thin and very likely out of a bag along with a red salsa and an odd looking yellowish-green sauce. The salsa was not bad with obvious hints of fresh cilantro. The other, described by one reviewer as a “lemon avocado” sauce, was strange, unlike anything I have ever had in a Mexican restaurant, but again not bad. The chips are so thin that they cannot be dipped in the salsa, which is not very thick to begin with, without breaking apart, leaving the basket more than half full of pieces of chips too small to eat.
 
Guacamole and Espinaca “Dips”

We decided on the Espinaca Cheese Dip ($5.99), a blend of hot cheese, white onions, tomatoes and spinach, and the guacamole ($6.99). The guacamole was described as “fresh and buttery avocados, cilantro, jalapeños, onions, lime juice and special spices” on the menu, but I found no evidence of either cilantro or jalapeño (or butter for that matter). I thought the price was a quite steep compared to other places in town, but the serving was large and the guacamole pretty good, not nearly as good as mine however. You can get a half and side order ($1.99) of guacamole which are not on the menu and I was told that the half order was $3.99, reasonable considering the price of the full order, but when the bill came I was charged $5.25, the equivalent of $10.50 for a full order. When I complained about the higher price, management quickly apologized and charged me the quoted $3.99 price, but insisted that $5.25 was the correct price. He told me hat he would “take it up with the company” (remember, this is a chain) to see about implementing a reasonable price.

The “espinaca” (spinach) cheese dip had too little spinach, much less name the dish after it, to mention and seemed to be more like your average chili con queso minus the chili, but it was big and decent. Again, my primary complaint being that the chips were too thin to withstand either “dip”, falling apart when submerged in either and resulting in a basket full of crumbles with very few whole chips.

 
$7.99 … Really?

Like most Italians my wife dislikes spicy food, especially Mexican (one of my favorites), ordering her standard “cheese quesadilla” … boring! At $7.99, I have to say that this was one of the most pitiful quesadillas I have ever seen and a terrible value. Charging $8 for a (small) flour tortilla, a couple ounces of cheese, a spoonful of sour cream and even less guacamole, and a thimbleful of pico de gallo (which was noticeably missing from the plate even though it is on the menu) should be a crime, highway robbery, but it’s not, so there you go.

 

As always, on my first visit to a Mexican restaurant, I ordered tacos and enchiladas to see if they could get even the simplest of recipes right, in this case el numero nueve, the #9 combo, with a burrito, taco, and enchilada, “machaca” (shredded beef) all. I have to say that the taco was the best I have had in recent years, having lived in the Midwest since 2008, being large, stuffed with plenty of machaca, deep fried, then topped with lettuce, cheese, and even some diced tomatoes. It would have been nearly perfect if the taco had a couple of thin slices of avocado on it, but we had plenty of guacamole leftover so it was not an issue, although a very good idea. The enchilada and burrito were both equally stuffed with shredded beef, but uninspiring with little to no cheese and smothered seemingly in the same red (enchilada?) sauce. The rice and beans were minimal, sprinkled with kernels of corn oddly enough and two deep-fried masa de maiz (corn meal dough) balls, another novelty … could it be Tex-Mex … not! The masa balls are excessively sweet and do not compliment the meals, so I would reduce the sugar or 86 them altogether. Beside the masa balls, everything was “OK”, but the taco was the star of the show and likely a staple if we return.

 
Cheese and Onion Enchilada ala carte ($3.19)

You can order ala carte although you would not know it from looking at the menu. I asked if I could order a cheese and onion enchilada ala carte and was told it would cost $3.19 plus tax, not unreasonable, so I decided to try one. The sauce was decent, but missing the distinct chili zing of a traditional enchilada sauce and the chili con carne you would find in authentic Tex-Mex cuisine. The cheese inside was plentiful, but a bit too runny, making it a little difficult to eat and there was not an onion in sight (or bite for that matter). Overall, it was not the best enchilada I have eaten and not the worst, but it was definitely NOT a cheese and ONION enchilada.

Service is very good and management is very responsive to customer concerns, all bending over backward to make things right and a breath of fresh air in an industry suffering from apathetic servers and managers. The prices were comparably a bit steep, except for the combinations oddly enough, the service good, and the food decent, maybe even one of the BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN LAWRENCE, but that is nothing to brag about!

 
CombatCritic Gives Mi Ranchito (Lawrence) 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … VERY AVERAGE … More Bombs Are Better!






Read More Reviews By CombatCritic, Including Mi Ranchito, On Yelp And TripAdvisor Along With Many Other Reviews And Much, Much More!

Title: One Of The Best (Not Tex-Mex) Mexican Restaurants in Lawrence … Not Much To Brag About!
 
Key Words: Mi Ranchito, mi, ranchito, Mexican, restaurant, food, taco, enchilada, burrito, guacamole, Lawrence, Kansas, 23rd, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

As We Say On Yelp … “Meh, I’ve Experienced Better”


Hacienda Colorado
5246 N Nevada Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
Phone: (719) 418-7999
Prices: $$$$$
Three steak tacos and a few black beans – $13
You would never know you were in a Mexican restaurant by the looks of the place. It looks more like a seafood restaurant or a steak house. Anyway, unlike most of my reviews, this will be short …
 
 
 
Food … average
Service … adequate
Prices … very high … $10 for guacamole?
Value … terrible
 
CombatCritic Gives Hacienda Colorado 3 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
Hacienda Colorado on Urbanspoon
Portobello Burrito – $11.59 … For A Burrito With No Meat?
Cheese and Onion Enchilada Ala Carte – $3.99
Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!
Title: As We Say On Yelp … “Meh, I’ve Experienced Better”
 
Key Words: Hacienda Colorado, hacienda, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Nevada, Mexican, menu, food, restaurant, taco, enchilada, guacamole, chips, salsa, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

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

Denver, Colorado: Le Central Is "Le Bombe"


Le Central (French)

112 E 8th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
Southwest, Capitol Hill
 
Phone: (303) 863-8094
Prices: $$$$$



Escargots En Brioche – $7

Le Central is one of my favorite restaurants … anywhere … and I have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the 39 countries I have visited so far. I was in India a week ago, but found out that my mom was hospitalized and dying, so I made my way over a 72 hour period to be by her side in Colorado Springs when she died on February 12th, 2015. Long story short, I was taking my wife to the Denver airport so she could return to work and we decided to stop at Le Central for their Happy Hour menu.

We have been gone for seven years, but the place has not changed except for the being open in the afternoon with a limited, but exceptional menu. They offer a $3 glass of wine, escargots, crepes, their fabulous mussels and French fries (moules frites).
Moules Et Frites “Portugaise” – $12.95

I has a glass of pinot noir ($3), which was excellent, the escargots in brioche ($7), and the moules Portuguese ($12.95).  The pinot noir was dry, a deep red, and robust. The escargots were superb as usual and I mopped-up every last drop with the wonderful French baguette.  The Portuguese mussels were excellent with slices of chorizo and chunks of fresh tomato in the white wine based broth infused with garlic although the broth was not as plentiful as I would have liked as was the case in years past. The frites were excellent, perfectly salted and hot, but by the time I de-shelled all of my mussels, they were not as hot as I would have liked … DRAT!

The prices have gone up a bit since we were there last, but Le Central is still an outstanding value.  The service is always excellent, the food sublime and very reasonable, the wine list extensive, and the ambience country French.  If you have not tried Le Central, you do not know what you are missing!
CombatCritic Gives Le Central the Coveted 10 Out of 10 Bombs … Plus de Bombes Sont Mieux! (More Bombs Are Better)
 
 
Le Central on Urbanspoon







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Title: Le Central Is “Le Bombe”
 
Key Words: Le Central, le, central, French, France, restaurant, menu, escargots, wine, moules, frites, fries, Denver, Colorado, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Carne Asada or Tuna Taco? That Is The Question!


Monica’s Taco Shop
30 E Fillmore Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
Phone: (719) 473-1996
Prices: $$$$$
 
After reading the mostly rave reviews on Yelp, I had to try Monica’s as it is just a couple blocks from the hospital where my mom is currently admitted.  Let me just say that I was not overly impressed.
 
Carne Asada Tacos – $2.15 Each
A cheese quesadilla, two carne asada tacos, chips and guacamole, and an horchata came to almost $15, not exactly cheap.  The quesadilla was nothing special, the tacos came on greasy tortillas that tasted like they were fried in dirty (fishy) oil, and the guacamole, and I use that term loosely, looked like the stuff from a tub that you get on nachos at Little League baseball games and was smothered all over the chips (fried in the same fishy grease) and topped with a little cheese. 
 
Chips and Guacamole? – $4.19
There was no need to deep fry a soft shell corn tortilla for a carne asada taco in the first place as they should have been lightly toasted on the grill prior to serving.  The contents, meat, cheese, and pico di gallo, were actually pretty good and plentiful, but I could barely stomach the greasy, fishy flavor of the fried tortillas. Non me gusto … YUK!
 
I would like to think that it was just a bad night, but I honestly cannot say that I will return to find out.
 
CombatCritic Gives Monica’s Taco Shop (Fillmore) 4 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE BUENAS!
 
 
 
 
 
Monica's Taco Shop on Urbanspoon

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Title: Carne Asada or Tuna Taco? That Is The Question!
 
Key Words: Monica’s Taco Shop, Monica’s, Monica, taco, shop, Colorado Springs, Fillmore, chips, menu, enchilada, burrito, guacamole, eat, food, restaurant, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

India Jones and the Temple of Gloom


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