Sunday, April 26, 2015

Orient Express - Super Speedy Yes Indeedy!

Orient House Express
5970 S.W. 18th St #E2A
Boca Raton, FL 33433
Phone: (561) 368-9999

Having the word "Express" in their name is not in the least bit indulgent. For our delivery was undoubtedly the fastest service we have EVER had! I had barely enough time to take the wine from the fridge and retrieve the chopsticks from the drawer when the doorbell rang. From phone call to digging in could not have been more than 20 minutes. (they also have online ordering if you are so inclined)

As it was our first time ordering from them (and food critics weren't watching) we opted for a few traditional takeout dishes: Kung Pao Chicken, Szechuan String Beans, General Tso's Tofu and  Hot/Sour Soup. The dishes arrived steaming hot, but alas, the food itself was pretty standard suburban Chinese fare. 

The Kung Pao, which should be spicy and peanutty, was in desperate need of a flavor boost. It had just the barest kick of heat and very little in the way of any depth of flavor. I had to grab some hoisin sauce and black vinegar from the fridge to elevate the dish.

Szechuan string beans were nice and spicy and to the chefs credit, cooked perfectly al dente. In addition, the sauce didn't rely on excessive sugar for flavor which is definitely a bonus. But again the flavor profile was lacking - beyond the blast of heat there just wasn't much else there. 

General Tso's Tofu - well, of course, that was delicious! If you can wrap your head around the notion that you are scarfing down an "entree" that is in reality a savory deep fried dessert then this is the dish for you! We gobbled up 5 Huge hunks of Tofu in a super-sweet sauce. We didn't give a hoot about the authenticity of this deep fried deliciousness - it tasted great. (Do we get to count it as healthy if we ordered tofu instead of Pork? don't answer.) 

Hot and Sour soup was meh. Again, a trip to the fridge was necessary to give it some oomph. Once I drizzled some much needed sesame oil and a spoonful of some garlicky sambal oelek it was actually pretty good.

We will order from them again when the lazy bones and the hankering for takeout hit us. The food once doctored was good enough and the service was exceptional. 

Yes, Please! The Cheese Course in Mizner Park

The Cheese Course
Mizner Park 
305 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432

p. 561-395-4354

Not sure why we walked past this little spot so many times without stopping in for a bite. My mistake!

We frequently saw people sitting out at the tables having a glass of wine and a little cheese and assumed that it was just a cheese shop that sold wine. Well, it is a cheese shop. And they do sell wine. But they are much more than that entails.

 The menu is not extensive, consists of a variety of cheese platters, salads and sandwiches. But each item is crafted well. The sandwiches are large (find a friend to share) and the ingredients are fresh, flavorful and pair well together. I've tried three and they were all worth the carbs!

 Salads are also interesting and the dressings, which they will serve on the side without rolling their eyes - (in Boca, dressing on the side is de rigeur) are home made and zesty. Plus you can make substitutions to the ingredient list to suit whatever mood you are in. Don't like goat cheese? They'll suggest a similarly creamy blue for you. Don't like feta? They'll give you a nice salty crumbly cheese that still makes the salad work.

 The staff members will recommend appropriate wine or beer to complement your menu selection, and the prices are more than reasonable - especially for Boca!

Feeling uneducated about which cheese to order? Not to worry...not only will they help you pick out what you might like based on your preferences, they have samples out for you to try and they offer tastings and classes to educate your palate.

Sandwich and salad portions are generous. But be warned, the cheese platters tend more toward the delicate side than the slab of deliciousness you might expect. If you're sharing a standard platter and you're not dining with a vegan, it's almost a certainty that there will be a squabble over the last nibbles.

On Thursday evenings be sure to stop by for the "Siply Thursday" promtoion: $3 glasses of house wine and $9 bottles.  Curiously, they seem to have an employee turnover issue and we often have to inform the cashier of existence of the "Siply Thursday" promotion. They  seem oddly perplexed.

Confusion notwithstanding, it's a lovely and budget friendly way to spend happy hour with a few friends. Sampling a platter of interesting , unusual cheeses paired with the perfect beverage.

 Seating is available both inside and out. On a nice evening, it's nice to sit at the large communal picnic table and strike up a conversation with some other folks that have discovered the joy of this little shop.

Kapow - Almost Wowed

Kapow Noodle Bar
(561) 347-7322 ‎
Boca Raton, FL 33432
431 Plaza Real • Mizner Park

I tried, really I did. I've been four times. I've sampled at least 4 different dishes with each visit and have imbibed in a variety of beverages.

The food was definitely tasty - bold flavors and interesting combinations. Nothing was bad, nothing was terrible. But ... there was nothing phenomenal. Nothing that made me want to bring friends to try that one special dish.

Maybe it was just too fusion-y for me. There is definitely a blurring of the lines across ethnic cooking styles.  For me though, I guess I just prefer Chinese food to taste Chinese, Malay food to taste Malay and Korean to taste Korean. The food flavors here are robust, they just didn't seem authentic to me.

Table service was sometimes amazing and wasn't. On one occasion, my SO and I, both of us having left our youth far behind, were ignored for so long even after requesting assistance that we eventually gave up and dined elsewhere. 

BUT..on my last two visits it was clear that the quality of service had improved dramatically. In fact, just a few weeks ago my 20 something daughter and I had a multi-course happy hour there and were delighted with the level of attention we received.  Young male servers ensured that we had everything we could possibly need. Hmm.... I'm not saying that having a 20-something dining companion helped but...

Always Bring One of These To Ensure Excellent Service!

Of course I would absolutely go again if friends wanted to dine there. I enjoyed the food, I just wasn't Kapowed.

By the way - I do realize I'm in the minority here, but I do feel that I gave it a fair shot and I am expressing my personal opinion. Yours, obviously, may vary!

Wine Kitchen on the Creek

The Wine Kitchen on the Creek
50 Carroll Creek Linear ParkFrederickMD 21701(301) 663-6968

One of our regular go-to restaurants for both lunch and dinner. A perfect location right on the creek ; perfect for a glorious evening outdoors and for people watching!

 I'm going to break this down into two parts: Happy Hour and Regular Dining.

First Happy Hour. Fantastic bar food at a great price! These are not mini-servings with a mini-price. The dishes are all great. I don't think I've ever had one that I thought was meh. Particular favorites are the seasoned with gusto Steak Frites and the light and crispy calamari. For $6 , the steak could absolutely qualify for a light eater's dinner. The bar menu changes often, but I am always confident that whatever new delight they present will be something nobody else is doing and will be worth the calories. 

 Happy hour drinks - well, unless you order wine, there's not much of a selection. They offer one specialty cocktail for happy hour (changes daily), and if it's not your cup of tea, then your choices are limited. The other downside to happy hour is that you have to be inside the restaurant to participate. So, you have to choose between a really good value and the pleasures of sitting outside.

 Now - on to the regular menu. I give an overall 5* to the flavors of the food. With very few exceptions, I have found the offerings to be well thought out, often succulent, and frequently fresh and exciting. Where it is sometimes a bit lacking is in the portion size. 

The guacamole with chicharon appetizer is a prime example. For $5 you get a few chicahrones ( pork crackling) and maybe a quarter cup of guacamole. It tasted fine, but either it should have been a buck or they should have tripled the quantity of quac. That went firmly in the "never again" column.

 Ditto for the three tuna tacos - they were the itty bittiest little things I've ever seen qualify as a taco. Tasted good, but one bite and it was gone!

 The mixed nuts are a mixed bag. When the restaurant first opened, diners were rewarded with a decent size bowl teeming with warm, curried cashews. Now? Well, the nuts still arrive warm, but they lack the curry-ness of the old days and certainly the portion size has been cut back substantially.

 Now, some good stuff. The oysters. Raw oysters, shucked without destruction, and presented beautifully with a lovely mignonette. We have ordered these multiple times - and though the oyster selection changes based on seasonal availability, the freshness and briny goodness never disappoints. 

 Whether you prefer fish, fowl or four-legged, they do proteins particularly well. Scallops are seared with a golden crisp crust yet sweet and tender inside. The papaya salad on which they were served presented a nice spicy contrast to the delicate shellfish. It wasn't the best papaya salad that I've ever had, but it didn't overpower the seafood so it actually worked well. 

 I'm sorry to say that I can't report on any of the vegetarian options. I honestly do try to eat healthy most of the time, but at the Wine Kitchen, I just can't pass up on some of their amazing meat dishes. 

Oh and I almost forgot... the wine! Here you will find a well described selection of wines and a range of price points. You won't find the all-to-common Chateau Ste. Michelles or Beringers or Mondavis here. Rather they are wines that you may never seen before nor ever even heard of. 

 Fear not! You can order a flight of wines that will allow you to sample across a spectrum of flavors. You can have all red, all white, cheap white, cheap red, hearty wines, sparkling wines, mixed up wines, all-Spanish... well, you get the picture. There are plenty of flights to choose from if you don't want to pick just one glass. 

 ANd..part of the joy of ordering wines here are the descriptive cards that accompany your selection. Somebody (I hear it's the owner) has a good sense of humor and really excels at writing delightful tounge-in-cheek descriptions. They are a hoot! 

 I know that there have been some comments about the quantity of food on the plates. I agree that some (many of) the entree portions are small compared to typical restaurants these days. But..I think that the fact that I still prefer to spend my dining dollars at the Wine Kitchen attests to the quality and the value of the dining experience there.. And, in any case, I have never left hungry, and I have never left feeling like I didn't get good value for my money (except of course for those tiny tuna tacos and that darn puny dollop of guac).