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reviews

Last night we had the chance to dine at the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas (at Caesars Palace). H had been there before and really liked it. It was my first time. Although I am not the biggest Bobby Flay’s fan I was looking forward to trying Mesa.

Overall the service was excellent. It was friendly, unpretentious and professional. There were ten of us including a toddler and our waiter was textbook good on helping us with everything.

Food was very good, but I would not considered it in the great/fantastic category. In fact, some of the dishes were excellent. Others were a bit “meh, it’s good but for the price…not that great”.

I ordered the Chorizo Meatballs for appetizers and the Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit as the main entree. The chorize meatballs were fantastic. Great smoky fire, perfectly cooked and the sauce was also delicious. The Rabbit was more in the “meh” category. It was good, but nothing special. The couscous was very bland (the last thing you’d expect from a Bobby Flay’ dish).

Some of the other diners had different experience. H loved her Chile Verde Cioppino. Another friend was lukewarm on the Espresso steak.

Overall I am glad we went. We had lots of fun. But I also now know there are better places to go in Vegas.

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I ordered the Seelbach. It was really good and worked well with food.

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Jalapeno Corn Muffins

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Crispy Blue Corn Lobster Tacoc plus Pickled Habanero Relish

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Chorizo Meatballs with Red Chile Tomato Sauce plus Cotija

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Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit. Toasted Cous Cous, Fava Beans, Smoked Red Pepper Sauce plus Queso Blanco.

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Green Chile Cioppino with Jumbo Prawn, Scallop, Grouper, Little Neck Clams, Mussels. Served with Blue Corn Stick plus Scallion Butter

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We are in a business trip in the Bay Area. On the way from the airport (Oakland) we were passing through Fremont and I remembered that the city is essentially the west coast capital of Afghanistan. So I called H and got the name of the the locals favorite Afghan restaurant: Salang.

We ordered Mantu for appetizer (afghan ravioli with a light white beef sauce and yogurt dressing). We followed with Chapli Kabab (very fine ground beef mix with lots of herbs and bread crumbs and than grilled) and Qabili Rice (basmati rice with lamb, nuts, mix raising, and shaved carrots).

One quick note. Alcohol is not sold in the restaurant, but you can bring your own bottles (and I believe there is no corkage fee).

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Yesterday the Italians @ Seattle Facebook group was polled to determine the current top 5 pizzeria in Seattle.

One caveat was that pizza had to be purely Italian. So some other pizzerias did not make the list. Generally speaking I agree with the final ranking. Few years ago I wrote a post about my favorite pizzerias back than.  Not much as changed.  Tutta Bella remains the favorite one (including the endorsement of two Italians from Napoli).   La Vita e’ bella did not make the list this time.  Via Tribunali e Guido swapped spots.

 

Last night we stopped by Trellis (@heathman hotel in Kirkland) for desserts and a drink.

They have a great outside seating and although we live very close we actually had never been before.

We ended ordering a dessert (sage honey flan), fries and wine.

The flan had a great texture, but I really could not taste the sage and overall thought it was a bit on the blend side.

Fries were great.

They were out of couple of dessert wines so we opted for a Malbec.

Overall it was too little for a full review. The menu looked interesting, but I’ll have to go back to truly have an idea of how good it is. I am hoping it’s a bit better than the first impression I had from the dessert.

 

Friday night I was having drinks with my Italian friends and the topic came up. We talked about it for a good chunk of time and it seems that by the end there was good agreement on the ranking.

Before I started writing this post I checked the pizzeria rankings on citysearch. wow…in the audience top five there is none of the pizzerias that we have in our top 5. It seems we are more in sync with the editors. We both have the Tutta Bella Pizzeria in Columbia City as our #1.

There is another important point to make. This entry ranks the best pizzeria and not the best pizza. I will post about the best pizza later, for today let’s focus on the pizzeria.

#1 – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Columbia City
what we like: everything – atmosphere, pizza, staff/service, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like: it’s a little out of the way

#2 – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Wallingford
what we like: the space, the pizza, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like: nothing really. This is where we go the most, but the atmosphere is not quite the same as #1

#3 – Pizzeria da Guido in Crossroad
what we like: pizza is great, place is reminiscent of some off-beat Italian pizzerias, no line
what we don’t like: a little out of the way, crossroad mall it’s pretty sad at night

#4 – Via Tribunali in Capitol Hill
what we like: pizza can be very good, atmosphere
what we don’t like: waiting line, you cannot customize pizza (unbelievable!), unfriendly

#5 – La Vita e’ Bella in Belltown

Have fun at your next pizzeria trip!

What others think?

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[Note: this review applies to the “new” La Spiga – after they moved to the new location on 12th and Union]

I had dinner three times at La Spiga in the past couple of months. I wanted to post a review earlier, but I felt I needed to visit the restaurant a few times before writing it. I usually don’t do that, but given the circumstances I made an exception.

Before I go too much into the details. Here’s my short scorecard (scores 1-10):

– Service: 5.5
– Food: 7
– Ambiance: 9
– Value: 7.5

Final take: La Spiga new location is just awesome. The place is great and I like the modern industrial yet not-too cold feel. But a restaurant (especially a great one) should be more about the content than the container. In other words service and food should be the main characters and this does not seem to be the case at La Spiga. The food still tastes fairly authentic and fresh. Some dishes are better than others, but they consistently lack of “personality” – to me it seems like that there is not much love being put in the cooking. The service is average at best, again there does not seem to be much passion in the air. The value is still pretty good, the food is still fairly authentic and prices are good (especially when compared to other rip-off Italian restaurants in Seattle). Now if they stopped being stingy with some of the dishes the value would be even better.

My main recommendation would be to cut back the number of choices on the menu and focus more on the execution. From the service side it seems that there is not a consistent oversight of what’s going on. With such a big place and so many waiters there needs to be a better system in place to guarantee an higher level of service…I have not seen this in place. The good news is that it should be easy to fix.

Short recap about the three times we went.
visit #1: I went with some of my friends (and respective wifes). It was a week after they opened in the new location. The service was somewhat slow and the food was a hit or miss. The good news is that we got a good break on the price, so overall it ended up being a positive experience…although without the price break I would not have been an happy customer.
visit #2: Wow…this was a disaster. I think it was the worse experience ever (ok…maybe second all time after a domican restaurant in the Carribeans a few years ago). We were there for three hours, courses got lost, food was cold, waiter disappearing…I mean everything was a mess. It was such a failure that I could not write a review at that point. I needed to go again after a few weeks. I had to give it a second third chance.
visit #3: We went back last week. It seemed that things had settled a bit and the experience was decisively better than the previous time. It is about time to write a review.

Service
In all of our visits the services has been average at best. We had 5 waiters in the past three visits and none have been too good. Many times you have to ask things a few times (not acceptable), but my main concern is that it seems that waiters don’t honestly care about the customers and they lack passion. I saw the owner still attending the table. With such large staff that should not be the case. The owner should be supervising what’s going on and make sure that everyone is up to standards. It seems that motivation and discipline are not where they should be.

Food
The good news: the overall quality of the food is still good. Dishes feel fresh and authentic. The not so good news is that I did not feel the “love” in the dishes, they lack “personality”. This is a little difficult to explain and definitely an intangible, but it’s something that a few people I went with shared. The piadina is still very authentic and the classic italian meats are a must. The pasta are a hit or miss. The gnocchi are plain but good (especially if you spice up the sauce), the risotto definitely need a kick. The passatelli are pretty good soup/appetizer.

Ambiance
I love the new place. They did a great job. I was concerned that it would lose the cozy feeling that the previous location had, but I think they were able to keep the place faily cozy, although it’s ten times bigger. I like the modern industrial feel mixed with the dark wood tables. Very nice!

Value
The value is still very good. Generally speaking Italian restaurants in Seattle are very overpriced and with average quality (aside from Machiavelli) and La Spiga distinguishes itself by balancing authentic quality food with good prices. The other thing is that – like in the previous location – the dishes are sometimes a little stingy. Come on guys… there is a difference between good size portion and being just stingy! (example: one of my friend ordered the “passatelli in brodo”…it was supposed to be a main entree…it turned to be less than a cup and she had to order another entree)

All in all you should pay a visit. It is a place I would go with a group of friends.

Recently I had the opportunity to dine at couple of Italian restaurants in Seattle. My stand on Italian restaurants has been generally along the line “I am paying too much for below quality food”. Lately I have been a little more relaxed and I am trying to checkout some of the local restaurant to really assess where they are at.

A positive note came from Volterra. The restaurant serves a more contemporary Italian food. The menu has a good selection without going crazy with the number of dishes. The appetizer (marinated calamari) was on the overpriced side and not too good (too much citrus…could not taste the calamari). The pasta was much better, although the quality was not consistent among the 4 pastas we ordered (there 4 four of us and I ordered wild boar):

Linguine with clams sauce (Linguine alle Vongole): This was just OK. This is not a difficult dish to make and with good ingredients usually a sure hit. I found it a little plain with the pasta just a bit undercooked. I would not reccomend it.
Fettucine with Shrimp and Pesto (Fettucine alla Genovese): The sauce was good. The fettucine were definitely undercooked. I mean you could taste the flour in the middle.
Wild Mushrooms and Truffles (Tagliolini Tartufati): This was a fantastic dish and the best of the entire dinner. I would highly reccomend this one.
I did not order pasta and went for the wild boar. It’s something I don’t get to eat too often and I just love it. The dish called for a gorgonzola sauce. Unfortunately I am not a gorgonzola fan. I asked if I could have a different sauce and the chef accomodated my request and I was able to get it with the wine sauce that they use for the medallions. The sauce was on the stronger side for the wild boar, but it was pretty good overall.

Overall it was a positive experience. The price was on the higher end (I think we paid about 40USD each, but we also ordered couple of bottles of wine), the service was standard good and the food good (could be very good with a little more attention…maybe that night they were rushing it a bit).

Note: at the time of this post the appetizer is actually off the menu.

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I dined at the 3rd Floor Third Cafe many times for business. It’s a great place to take partners that are visiting us for a few days.

Last night we went for the 25 for $25 dinner with friends.

Bottom line: the Fish Cafe has a “special” 30$ menu most of the year. I would highly recommend to go for that one and not the 25$ one. Don’t get me wrong, the 25$ is still pretty good…it’s just not as good as the other one. The major difference is that the 30$ menu is a subset of the regular menu and the 25$ has different dishes (and no…that’s not a good thing).

One thing I really liked is that the special menu is easy to “discover”. The Fish Cafe gives you the 25$ menu along with the regular menu. That’s very good.

Appetizers – I would give it a 6/10. There’s really nothing special (shrimp cocktail, gyoza or a salad). Yeah…they are good, but I could just have it at home!

Main – I would give it a 7/10. The selection is limited to pasta with seafood creme sauce, lamb shank and something else. We had the lamb and the pasta. The lamb was tasty and tender. My friends me told me that the pasta was good (I am anti-seafood-with-creme so I could not taste it).

Dessert – 8.5/10. I would highly recommend the creme brulee. It’s actually really good. The other desserts are good as well.

Overall it’s an ok deal. At the very end we ended up spending 45$/person (we had wine and coffee). If you have never been there and you want to check out the place then this is a good opportunity. But I would rather wait for the 30$ menu to be abck. The food is much better and definity worth the money.

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