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Deal Breaking Restaurant Mistakes?

I thought this might be a good topic and we might get some surprising anecdotes.

The question is, what mistakes have restaurants made that you just can't forgive and thus will never go back? Name names or not- it's up to you. I am choosing to be kind this evening and not name my offenders.

One deal breaker has happened to me in 2 different places- one being Thai and one Mexican: Rancid meat. You know, that good old dead dog in the road for two days smell. Detectable all the way from the plate, I didn't even have to bring it near my face with a fork first. The Thai place wanted to argue about it, saying it must be the marinade I'm smelling. Yeah, right, like we all don't know the smell of rotting meat. Must be the marinade. The Mexican place was at least very responsive to the complaint. But still, I figure it's a deal breaker. Why? Because either the cook smelled it and decided to serve it anyway, or, just as bad, DIDN'T notice the odor, and that makes for one scary cook. Who can't smell that?? Either way- deal breaker.

Deal breaker two: Raw rice. Mixed with the cooked rice. A well-regarded "organic" "healthy" place that I did have a good meal at once before. How does one even accomplish a mix of cooked and raw rice? You cook some and then throw raw grains in at the end? The mind boggles. Thankfully I didn't bite into the rice hard. Because if I had, it would have cost me at least $2K in dental work. I am lucky and they are lucky. Fortunately for them, i'm just not going back, because that was a deal breaker.

Sep 24, 2010
mouthmusic in Not About Food

Independent Steakhouse?

I'm not a big steak house person, but I got taken to a real old-style place and have to say I really loved it. Red Tracton's Steak House in Del Mar. I absolutely loved the whole meal, service was perfect, but I loved the retro ambience just as much. It's a time capsule and not in a contrived way. it's just the same place it used to be and well kept up. It's a place you might have once expected Sinatra to hang out in. It's only hip in the ring-a-ding-ding sense. http://www.redtractonssteakhouse.com/

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Red Tracton's
550 Via De La Valle, Solana Beach, CA 92075

Sep 24, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Are Rubio's fish tacos going downhill, or was I just unlucky?

For the first time in many years, my partner and I were both surprised at Rubio's (Encinitas) last night with fish tacos that were kind of dry, and the sauce seemed 'off' (or maybe just scant) from what we expect.

Then we find out on the internet the company has just been sold to some investment group.

I saw pretty much the same personnel at the restaurant I have seen before. One guy (manager?) having been there for years.

I'm just wondering if we came in on a 'bad night', or if anyone else has noticed things deteriorating there. Not that Rubio's was ever haute cuisine, and really I don't care for much there other than the classic fish tacos and pinto beans. But I really liked those tacos and hope they aren't getting trashed by the new owners.

Sep 05, 2010
mouthmusic in Chains

Tentative demi review: Pho Ever, Vista

I went back and tried another dish, which was recommended by my previous server. The dish was Pan Fried Noodles- again, off the specials menu. While I appreciated the texture of the narrow flat rice noodles pan fried to a very firm texture (I needed a knife actually- which was not provided) that comprised the bed of the dish, the seafood toppings left something to be desired. While the shrimp and the squid were OK, there was some fake crab I did not really care for the taste of, nor what appeared to be some other type of 'seafood product' that was about the size of a scallop, but hemisphere-shaped. (Perhaps a "fish ball" cut in half? I wonder.) The brown saucing was lightly applied and delicate, neither memorable nor offensive. The taste of fake crab and the mystery hemisphere put this dish in the negative column. I would have been much happier if they just made the dish with pieces of fresh fish instead of products that have sweet-briney flavorings injected into them.

So much of their menu looks good, however, that I'm still anxious to go back and try more. I'll chalk up this experience to taking food advice from an employee that does not share my sense of taste. Next time, I'll see what the kitchen recommends.

Aug 28, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Tentative demi review: Pho Ever, Vista

Thanks all, for your positive comments.

I found a webpage for Pho Ever, however it does not have the "Specials" menu (or its dishes) I was presented with, and which I definitely want to order from again. But still there is plenty to look at, and a "Fan" page with lots of pictures. It says there is a Facebook page too, though I haven't looked at it yet. I'm almost wanting to go there now, but I really need to excerise!

http://phoeverrestaurant.com/

Aug 22, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Tentative demi review: Pho Ever, Vista

So I was driving in a neighborhood I don't visit often (S. Melrose just south of the courthouse complex in Vista) in the middle of the afternoon, starving because I hadn't eaten anything yet that day. Hungry as I was I have also learned through many trials and errors to not settle for the usual big chains/fast food places, because they always make my body feel bad afterward. But I told myself if I see a Vietnamese place, I'll stop. It is my position, until a bad experience proves otherwise, that even mediocre Vietnamese is far superior to most of what's out there in food-sad North County. And I have yet to encounter bad Vietnamese. Does it even exist?

My eye was soon caught by Pho Ever at 485 S. Melrose Dr, Vista. A small strip mall-y place, not far from the 78, new looking with a reasonably cheerful, clean, bright decor in an unfancy, almost fast-foodish way. It looked like it might be a place where you order at the counter, but in fact there is table service. There was a big screen TV on at one end with a sports program on. Not my ideal, but at 2:30 in the afternoon the restaurant only had a few patrons and I had no dining companion or reading material, so it was not offensive. There was also a radio on somewhere, playing classic rock and roll. Not what I would call good food music, but not so loud it would disrupt conversation.

I started with a beer to drink while I read the menu. The selection was limited to some typical brands (including Vietnamese "33", TsingTao, Corona, and some big-brand Americans) but they also had Stone P.A., which I went for.

Along with the regular menu they delivered a "Specials" menu, which grabbed my eye right away because it featured some dishes I had never tried before, such as their versions of "Sizzling Fish" "Pan Fried Noodles", and "Vietnamese Crepes". I had come in figuring I would probably order something typical and safe like Pho or Bun, but the Specials menu seemed exude a little cooking passion that spoke to me. I figured if they care, then I care.

I ordered the Vietnamese Crepe. This turned out to be outstanding. It arrived looking more like a folded omelette than a pancake-y crepe. But had a marvelous light, airy, crunchy texture typical of neither French-style crepes nor egg omelettes. Inside was perfectly cooked shrimp, pork, and other ingredients. Also on the plate was (I believe) mint basil, and lettuce leaves (not iceberg). Both greens were very fresh. There was also a small bowl of clear sweet-sour sauce (fish sauce?) such as is usually served with Bun noodle salads and other dishes. The owner-server asked me if I had the dish before and when I said no he suggested combining pieces of the crepe with the mint, wrapping it in the lettuce, and dipping it in the sauce. So- actually the crepe is a variation on the lettuce wrap theme? I wasn't expecting that. I made a mess of it, but lordy, it was wonderful! I enjoyed each bite, marveling at the pleasurable crepe texture the whole way through the dish.

At the end, I felt great. No bricks-in-the-stomach. Satisfied, but also energized. I complimented the server and promised to come back to try more dishes. He recommended the Pan Fried Noodles (which contains mixed seafood) for next time. And I will be back, to be sure. I have to know- did I get lucky with one dish, or do they really know how to cook there?

As to prices- it didn't occur to me I would be writing about the place, so I didn't pay a lot of attention. They were certainly quite reasonable. I think the Specials menu was in the $7-$11 range though I can't be precise about that.

I can't really call this a true review, thus the "tentative" "demi" disclaimer in the Title. It was a single dish eaten on a single visit. You can't really judge a place on that, or give it 'stars'. And I didn't even get into the Pho- which is in the name of the restaurant. But I thought that one simple dish was outstanding, and if they come close to that quality on the rest of the menu- I'm going to be a happy guy and will make a point to drive that route more often.

Hopefully others can add their own opinions of the place.

Here's a little newspaper blurb I found on the place (click to magnify): http://www.phoeverrestaurant.com/imag...

Aug 22, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Food Network show looking for your favorite outrageous food

I've got a unique sweet for you. It's a beverage I originally encountered at a fair booth during an event at Redland Fruit and Spice Park (great name, yes?) in Miami-Dade County, Florida. It was being vended as "Bahamian Iced Tea". I have since come to understand it was a variation on what is known in Jamaica as "Sorrel" (unrelated to Rumex acetosa AKA French Sorrel), a typical Christmastime treat, sometimes drunk with rum added. It is also a much more spiced-up, less sweet, and complex version of a soft drink sold in Mexico as "Jamaica".

While there are undoubtedly numerous 'family secret' variations on the recipe, the main ingredient is the dried base of a flower from a species called Hibiscus sabdariffa. It has a cranberry-like tart flavor, but with no cranberry-like bitter note. Rather it has a somewhat fuller-tasting earthy quality. Another significant ingredient is going to be fresh ginger. In addition, there will be sweet spices added such as Allspice (ubiquitous in Jamaica), Cinnamon, or Clove. There is also a bark extract known as Mauby (slightly root beer-like, with a slightly licorice-like flavor note) that may be added. And it must be sweetened.

While in Jamaica it may be associated more with Christmas, I suspect that has more to do with the elaborate preparation than the flavor, because it makes an outstanding iced refresher perfect for summer. It is also wonderful as a hot beverage. And, if one is in a celebratory mood, a little "overproof" rum can be added.

I do not have a fixed recipe for this. I find that the Hibiscus flower bases (found here in San Diego in some Mexican markets, sold as "Jamaica" flowers) vary in their strength and tartness. So basically I start by boiling the flowers, seeing what level of tartness I have, then adding whatever levels of the other ingredients it takes to balance things out, get the right amount of sweetness, and giving distinct notes of each ingredient. I don't have Mauby available to me here, but it is a perfectly fine beverage without it.

And the color- like a gorgeous ruby-red wine. Lovely.

Aug 20, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Carlsbad recommendations?

Let me add a not-expensive, family-friendly, comfort food experience which is Japanese food, both hot selections and sushi: Mikko http://www.mikkosushi.net/ Good quality versus price value there I think. And regardless of price the food is certainly better than a lot of local places. We find it a reliable choice. Since sushi is so common and I already eat it for lunch a couple times a week, we go for the hot dishes so I can't comment on their sushi.

Also, I like The Counter, (burgers, Carlsbad). I posted a review on this: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7109...

Jul 22, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Exotic forms of sushi for the timid adventurer?

Some really good, passionate, and descriptive writing in this thread- I really appreciate the responses. Maybe my friend who got the "vile" uni just got some bad stuff, or maybe he just couldn't deal with the "sea" flavor. So I'm emboldened to at least give it a try, maybe next time at Kaito. And depending how that goes, maybe I'll go for some organ-y selections the following trip. But I'll ask they not serve me bitter flavors, at least not yet.

Jul 12, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Exotic forms of sushi for the timid adventurer?

I guess my title is about the best way to word it. I do like sushi quite a bit, but don't know much about what to expect with the more exotic varieties (fish organs, etc). I did have one bad experience where I just 'went for it' and ordered something that I had no idea what it was (due to the language barrier with my server). The server said something about 'fish eggs' which I figured couldn't be too bad, but when I got it I really disliked it. I got a better translation later and found out it was the egg SAC. I don't know if it was naturally nasty or if it was from spices added, but it put me off the idea of ordering fish guts I wasn't familiar with. Also, I have not yet tried uni. I hear so many people rave about it, but one friend told me it was the most vile thing he ever tasted. So that kind of put me off. I also haven't tried sea cucumber and other weird creatures beyond fish flesh, shrimp, eel flesh and similar familiar items.

We were in Kaito the other night, and I was letting the chef decide for us, but I rejected his suggestions of some of the scarier looking stuff, like what is mentioned above. But at the same time, I would like to try new things. I just don't want nasty surprises like bitter tasting fish organs. What suggestion would sushi pros here make for someone like me who wants to expand my selections but doesn't want big disappointments either? And what's the deal with uni? Is it fishlike, bitter, or what? The texture sure looks unpleasant. Why would some rave so much while others find it so vile?

Jul 11, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

good beer and good thin crust pizza

OK I returned to Pizza Port Solana Beach on June 19th and I have to give credit where it's due: they made a really good thin crust. Excellent actually. Very thin, nicely crispy. This was the first time I have ever had that experience there. Hope they can keep it up. In fairness I should mention we ordered it with feta cheese, no mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and artichoke. Not a pizza with massive toppings. Quite light on top really, as we prefer it. So whether they can deliver the same thin and crispy crust with the typical very cheesy toppings, I don't know. But it was certainly the best pizza we have had at that particular restaurant and a good thin crust by any standards.

Jun 20, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Restaurants in 99 Ranch - Sam Woo/168

We went to Sam Woo a few weeks ago. Long enough that I don't remember each specific dish we ordered but recently enough to remember we were all very happy with what we got. We didn't get barbecue- just ordered off the sit down menu and had seafood-oriented dishes. Scallops, fish, and the inevitable honey walnut shrimp I believe. The waitress was good enough to warn us off one of the things we planned to order because the main ingredient (eggplant?) was not at peak at that particular time. We all appreciated that. We'll be back.

Jun 16, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

good beer and good thin crust pizza

You nailed it, deeznuts. They are jam packed everyday. What is their motivation to improve? They have the cheapest, fillingest eats in an ultracasual atmosphere, within a block of the beach in pricey Solana Beach. Pizza, even when bad, is the #1 most popular American food. Pizza Port has a surefire formula in an environment of over-priced, lackadaisical restaurants, which aspire to nothing more than the low, local bar. Artisan-wise, if they did nothing other than buy frozen Tartes d'Alsace from Trader Joe's and doubled the price for providing the service of heating it up for you (as I have a suspicion Samy's Woodfired Pizza does with their "tartes") I would be ecstatic, moreso my S.O. who does not drink beer and so must fully experience the P.P. flavors without the good-cheer-inducing effects of their many fine beers.

Jun 07, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

I just wanted to update my previous post on the slightly overdone burgers (2 in a row). I submitted a polite complaint via email- mostly so I would know that someone in management knows there was a repetitive problem. (I would never have complained about one burger, which was cheerfully replaced- but when it happens twice in a row, you assume there's a problem in the kitchen.) The manager contacted me by phone and offered to do whatever it takes to accommodate me. I told him I was quite happy that the server already comped me the dish and that mostly I wanted to make sure he was aware of the problem. He said they did have a couple similar complaints that weekend (hye?) and they have already had an employee meeting about it. So I consider the issue appropriately resolved, and hope that weekend was a rare aberration. I went in again this Saturday and had the usual excellent pink-and-juicy burger that I come in for along with good service from the experienced servers. My partner enjoyed her grilled chicken ordered on greens instead of a bun. (All the proteins can be ordered that way if desired- a choice for the gluten-free folks?)

Jun 05, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

good beer and good thin crust pizza

I agree with the others about Pizza Port. I go for the great beers, definitely not for the pizza. I tolerate the pizza (barely) but my partner (a native New Yorker) can't stand it. (But I do hand it to them as brewers.) At Solana Beach I've ordered it "extra thin crust" which did come out thin though not firm enough. It fell apart actually. They tried, but it's not in their skill set. When I ordered "thin" it was still much too thick a crust for my taste (but did not fall apart). The default "regular" is way too bready- though for hungry surfers with skinny wallets there's lots of cheap tummy filler I suppose. Regardless of crust, the flavors aren't there, to my taste. I did try one of those fast-food "Flippin' Pizza" chain places (Carlsbad-La Costa) which had OK New York style slices with a good thin crispy crust (and average flavors). But I was surprised they had, on tap, one of my favorite brews- the excellent Karl Strauss hefeweizen, unavailable in bottles and only at limited locations on tap. So that was a nice surprise. An OK, thin crust pizza and a pretty good beer. (I don't know if all the locations have the same offering)

May 31, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

I'm going to check and see if there's a channel for complaints.

May 31, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Want Me some Off -the-Hook French'n Fries

Cool, but the fries are a separate order. Like $3.50 or $3.75. Huge, shareworthy plate though.

May 29, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

No sooner have I posted my first review than I have to post a caveat. In writing the review, I managed to make myself salivate, so had to go over again for lunch today. For the first time in many visits the burger came out.... not pink. Good tasting, but not as pink or juicy as usual. I pointed it out to the sever who was extremely accommodating in getting me an expedited replacement which arrived in a few minutes. And then the replacement came out just the same as the first one. Medium, not medium rare. Since it tasted good, I wasn't in the mind of making a big deal about it, but the server came by to check on the replacement. I showed him the cross section and said "what do you think?" He immediately replied it wasn't right and he was ready to have them do it again. I stopped him. I told him I was enjoying it, i just like it best when it's more rare as advertised. But since it tastes fine, I'll just eat this one. The server made an adjustment to the price. I'm still happy, but I'll be on alert next time I go in. If they blow it again, I'll go to the manager. So whether it was a new cook, or an off day in the kitchen or what, I don't know. Hopefully they'll fix it promptly. If anyone reading the review orders it pink (which is their default) but doesn't get it that way, you know the back story.

May 29, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

Want Me some Off -the-Hook French'n Fries

Coincidentally I just posted a review of The Counter in Carlsbad (burgers). I didn't mention the fries but perhaps I should have. The regular potato fries are thin, light, crisp, non-greasy and they give you a really large plateful, suitable for sharing. To me, they are "potatoey" in a very good way, such that I have no desire to put ketchup on them. I give credit to Mc Donalds for what they do with fries, but I'll give more credit to The Counter for getting them a little better.

May 29, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

The regular 1/3 pound burgers with plenty of topping choices are between $8 and $9 dollars. I don't remember the pennies. But they are 'high end steakhouse' worthy. They have some "market price" specials that go higher, but I haven't wanted to go past the burgers yet. Maybe after I've had another 5 or 10.

May 29, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego

The Counter (Carlsbad, burgers)

They come pink and juicy and very tasty- something that is very hard to find these days due to the E-Coli concerns. However E-Coli isn't a big risk for those who are in control of their process. It's a much bigger risk for those buying pre-ground beef from the common suppliers. Yes, if you didn't grind it yourself, you better cook it down. But if you know what you are doing, you can have it rare and safe. Most restaurants don't care enough to do it well.

Frankly, I had given up on finding a good burger. Tasteless grayburgers seemed to be the rule everywhere. Sure I could get a good one at a high-end steak house, but I can't pay money like that like that often. When I first discovered the marquee for The Counter my hopes weren't high, but I thought if they were claiming to have great burgers I could at least give them a shot.

What I got far exceeded my expectations. Not only were they pink and juicy as I remembered from the old days when rare was common, but the list of toppings was extraordinary. You must check out the menu at the link below. Also we are talking about 100% Angus beef, hormone and antibiotic free, humanely raised and handled at a particular single Montana ranch. These people are serious about controlling their process and delivering a good burger at a reasonable price and know what they are doing. I was surprised it is a chain restaurant.

Decor- modern, sleek, clean, airy. Very well designed interior. Atmosphere- cheerful. Full bar and a decent selection of good brews on tap as well as a wide selection of high-end brews in bottles. Local brews, Belgians, etc. The most finicky beer connoisseur will be able to find something. Service- variable. Some of the waitstaff are pros, others less so. None have been unpleasant so far. They're mostly pretty young, and it's probably a first job for some of them. But so what? It's a burger joint. With awesome flavors. And it's fun.

Anyway- lots of good particulars (including menu) at their site: http://www.thecounterburger.com/Carls...

May 29, 2010
mouthmusic in San Diego