Sunday, March 10, 2013

Nino's Bistro. You're Gonna Need the Wine

I tried. I really did.

I feel a need to point out, dear reader, that I am not a complete and utter slob when it comes to food. One of my favorite lunches is bottomless soup, salad and breadsticks at the Olive Garden (they changed the recipe for pasta e fagiole, but that's another article), I'm a sucker for a good pizza and Dunkin Donuts makes the best breakfast sandwiches. Though I have eaten some beautiful stuff in my day, I have my comfortable and convenient basics that I return to again and again. I draw a line when things are either contrary to my good health or when I feel a need to stop going there because I think the cook would take more pride in receiving an unemployment check from the closed kitchen than one more from the dump he's currently working in (for more on that, check back for my special report "How to %^&#$ Eat"). I have been called many names, but never unmerciful.

Having explained to you that I am not a total witch, let's talk about Nino's Bistro. I have tried it twice because, frankly, I really felt like I was missing something after the first try. Look at the plaques and the press write ups upon entering. There's been some other positive press. I have overheard some happy diners who just "love the food". Direct quote from more than one person. They claim to offer homemade authentic Italian dishes made with fresh ingredients. Well...

I had to ask for the dinner specials twice- the first time from our less experienced waitress and the second from the more experienced waiter because the former's Italian pronunciation was so poor that I could not understand what she was saying. The bottle of wine we brought was reasonably professionally uncorked and presented. My only regret was not bringing two bottles. The homemade bread served with olive oil and shredded parmesan presented nicely, a small baguette with a crunchy golden crust.

Now, let's take a detour here and talk about how to make bread properly (this isn't my job, but I feel like I have a responsibility to society). Your basic ingredients- warm water and sugar to wake up the yeast, your flour, your salt. When the yeast is doing its thing eating up sugar goodness, the bi-product is gas (yeast farts!) and that's what makes bread rise. After the rising, punch down the dough to release the excess air, then kneed, forming into the desired shape. That makes for a very basic fresh bread that is soft and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. Guess what happens when you just let the dough rise and then slide it into the oven without punching it down to release the air? You get a crispy shell filled with a handful of feathers, a la Nino's.

Back to dinner. But first a request. Please don't tell me in your menu that the food is homemade and then serve marinara sauce, such as is served with the mussels, that was poured right out of the can. The sausage and mushroom appetizer was a worthy attempt. I think some kale and cannellini beans would have made this a pleasant dish, but as it was presented, it was flat and lackluster with its raw slices of garlic floating in broth. If you're hungry for manicotti, buy a package of frozen at BJ's and a jar of sauce. You'd be getting the same thing. The veal special sounded interesting- panko (the most Italian of ingredients) breaded and sautéed in olive oil, white wine, cheese and prosciutto. I am still wondering about the prosciutto and its unique flavor as served to me- spoiled or poor quality? I didn't eat enough of it to come to a final conclusion. We weren't able to tell much of a difference between the arrabiata sauce and the regular "homemade". Dessert? No thanks. Overall, dinner lasted about an hour and a half due to the poor kitchen and table service. I could have watched a dramatic heart pounding Rutger Hauer film during that time. I feel cheated.

So, after my first try, I figured I went on the wrong night or I must have ordered the wrong thing. How can my opinion differ so drastically from those of my fellow Camp Hillers who were singing its praises? What is wrong with me? My second attempt lead me to believe that I have indeed entered another dimension. The bread cannot even absorb my tears. But its still here. What does that say about me, the restaurant and the West Shore dining public?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fox and Hound: Eat on the Way and Stay Awhile

I'm thirsty.  Really thirsty.  I would love an adult beverage.  Nothing fancy.  Doesn't have to be expensive or served to me in a fancy glass in a trendy bar with Warhol paintings and the ambience of a yoga class filled with middle aged housewives.  As much as I enjoy putting on a slinky dress and my Givenchy pumps, sometimes my lizard skin cowboy boots and a vintage thrift store sweater are what I really want.  I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Fox and Hound.  I try not to read others' reviews of places before I eat there myself because, silly me, I am not a sheep and I like to make up my own mind.  I expected a bar, loud music and a hockey game, a urine specimen/drink special, and a flirty waitress with her boobs hanging out of her top (which I am fine with, as long as my husband is within striking distance) serving me pretty standard bar fare.  I'm primarily thirsty, but something to munch on sounds OK too.  In fact, I think I'm kinda hungry.  

I had a feeling of anxiety upon walking in.  Not too many patrons.  At nine o'clock on a Friday night? During the long awaited hockey season? The door hadn't even shut behind me yet when we were greeted by a cheerful hostess who promptly seated us near the bar.  As I expected, it was noisy.  But look, music videos on the bar TV.  And basketball.  And hockey.  Testosterone and sex in high definition on all sides of me. Yup.  I have arrived.   And in my fun boots, no less.  I am kinda in the mood for this.  Here comes the waitress.  VERY nice!  So polite! House beer and house special margarita? We shall.  There are several choices for sauce for the wings, and we were happy to take her recommendation based on what we told her we liked.   Oh, you're the manager? Pleasant to meet you! Thank you, I believe I will indeed enjoy my visit! Stick with the house margarita the way its meant to be- rocks and salt, not sugar around the rim.  The house brew is pretty decent, very drinkable, not particularly hoppy, as I tend to prefer.  Here come the appetizers.  In Pennsylvania, the soft pretzel is an institution, a warm and chewy token that deserves our respect.  Possibly the reason William Penn settled here in the first place.  Here, it is deep fried and served with cheese/salsa dip.  It made me sad.  The wings were nothing special, but they tasted good with the drinks.  The combination of the sweet, spicy, and salty really is, for me, the definition of what you want to be eating with a huge beer or three. Comfort food, certainly not fine dining.  Newcastle fish and chips.  Easy, right? Again, I am sad.  The breading fell off of my overcooked fillets.  The fries were crispy, but overseasoned.  Coleslaw, a welcome addition to the plate with its cool tangy cabbage crunch.  Nope, warm and plain.  Here comes the salmon salad.  A bed of romaine (just plain romaine, that's it), with a dry, overcooked filet of salmon and a flavorless vinaigrette. I am looking for my bright spot on this adventure.  Ah, there it is!  As soon as my glass is empty, here is my waitress.  And look, she brought an extra dish of lemons when she refilled my water this time!  Yes, you can take that dish away, thank you so much.  What service! What attention! I can't say that I'm devastated by the food because my hopes were not high, but I am incredibly surprised by the service.  This is how its supposed to be.  Fast, friendly, attentive.  This is worth coming back for.  I passed on dessert, frankly, I had had enough.  Even after I pay my bill, the waitress still checks in on me.  I feel loved.  Upon leaving, we are approached my the manager.  A hearty handshake thanks us for coming and welcomes us back again in the future.  Will I take him up on his offer? Absolutely, with a few conditions.

I want the same fantastic service that I received this evening every time I come here.  My glass was never empty.  I didn't have one unwelcome dirty dish staring at me.  I was treated like I was wanted, like everyone was excited that I had come and wanted me to have a great experience.  

I want another house margarita.

I want to watch music videos and NBA.

This would be a great place for a normal person with a normal job to come after work and have a good time with co-workers and friends.  I do not fit into that box, but I will come with friends nonetheless, dammit.


I will eat before I come.  I might enjoy the food if I have a few drinks in me, but yet I must maintain my sobriety to the point that I can keep it down.   I don't want to have to taste it again.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

OK Chipotle (Chipotle Mexican Grill Camp Hill)

The Soup Nazi has come to Camp Hill.  Well, at least it felt that way to me.

Walking through the door as I pulled in to the crowded parking lot of Chipotle Mexican Grill was a variety of diners- a few moms with young kids, several businesspeople in suits and a lot of young, tattooed and pierced vegetarians, a wide spectrum all looking for the same thing today- a lunch that is fast, fresh and organic.  This place is hopping! The chain's website advertises Chipotle's company-wide initiatives to support the communities by purchasing their organic produce locally as available.  Who wouldn't support that?   The cafeteria-style line up to the counter was about 15 people deep.  With the menu options hanging from the ceiling and paper menus for my prerusal while in line, I suddenly felt anxious, this feeling of "When you get up there, know what you want, then get out of the way, or no taco for you!".  Easier said than done, because I frankly had a difficult time concentrating on anything because of the crazy noise level. I'm not sure how the suits are able to carry on a productive conversation.  Choice made, my turn at the counter.  Erin, don't screw this up.  "Burrito Bowl, please" (loudly).  Down through the line to pick your rice, white or brown.  Veggies- fresh and grilled, cheese, beans, multiple salsas to choose from.  Meat free? No problem. Chips and guacamole on the side? Sounds good.  Kids' meals served with organic milk?  Good to know!  Keep moving down the line, don't stop, don't stare.   Keep a free hand and expect to wipe down your own table.  Because of the mix of higher tables and that all seats in the place are bolted backless stools, there are fewer seating options for those that are wheelchair bound.  Ladies room was tidy.
Burrito Bowl was filling with my choices of beans, marinated grilled chicken, fresh vegetables. The roasted chili-corn salsa added a very nice dimension of texture and sweetness that I really enjoyed.  Brown rice, a staple in my house,  is naturally more chewy than white because of the hull, but this was just plain under-cooked.   The fajita grilled peppers and onions could have been cooked more (I'll point out that I didn't want them, but I guess I didn't yell loudly enough).  The salad greens and chips were all fresh tasting and very enjoyable.  The guacamole (which can be added to any meal for an up-charge of $1.95) tasted fresh and creamy with a nice amount of fresh onion and cilantro, but way too much salt.  The chicken was a nice balance of seasoning and grilled flavor, the beef was less flavorful.  I overall found it very satisfying, but not particularly adventurous or exciting. I can see it as a nice healthy option for dining with children (I've never met a kid who hated tacos).
Emptying my tray and basket and heading for the door was almost a relief, and the people waiting for my parking spot were happy to see me go.

Will I return? Probably not.  If you wanna try it, go between the lunch and dinner rush.  I'll stick with my brown rice and veggies at home.    

Chipotle Mexican Grill
3216 Trindle Road
Camp Hill, PA 17011
Hours- 11am-10pm