Sunday, August 22, 2010

BOSTON AT THE BEND RESTAURANT

Boston at the Bend Restaurant, located at the River Bend Marina, has been operating since April.  From the name, we assumed the food would be Boston quality.  We're very familiar with Boston food, as my hubby and I have spent time in Boston and have eaten some very good seafood dinners there.  From the outset, the restaurant appears to be a typical marina-type eating place -- no frills.  Therefore, the food MUST be good, or so we thought.
The inside is the same as the outside, no frills, just a basic eating place.
There's a nondescript bar tucked in one corner.
And the view is nothing to get excited about, especially if you're on the inside looking out.
Our server didn't smile much.  I wondered if she was unhappy about working.  She arrived at our table, introduced herself and gave us menus.  One specials menu was placed in the middle of the table for all of us to share.  And she walked away.  When she came back, we had some questions.  Which she couldn't answer.  So she disappeared again to ask in the kitchen for us.

We started our meals with a salad.  It was a typical New Bern restaurant salad, in that it looked like it had been in the refrigerator for a week.  The greens were not fresh, the cucumber had what I call "age spots," and it was just a mediocre salad that might have been good when it was first made.  It must have been photogenic though because it looks much better in the photo than it did in person.  The balsamic dressing was good.
The server brought us a basket of warm bread with the little tubs of real butter strewn all over the bread.    The bread was just okay, and in fact it was a little doughey on the inside.

Guy ordered the 1-1/4 lb. lobster only to find out that there were none available.  So he ordered the 2-lb. lobster for $34.99.  It came with a salad and baked potato.  There were no wet naps and there was no bib.  One lone paper napkin was all he got.
My shrimp and grits was supposed to have sausage in it, but I searched hard and could only find 2 slivers of sausage with the five shrimp.  Lots of grits, swimming in grease, with some spinach and tomatoes in the center, but very little protein.  The grits tasted like instant grits, not stone ground.  The cheese was scattered over the top rather than incorporated in the grits.  It was very disappointing, though the shrimp was nicely cooked.  The grease that surrounded the grits was very unappetizing.
Joann ordered the shrimp alfredo.  It was the worst alfredo she ever ate.  The shrimp was cooked nicely, but the pasta was dry and rubbery and the sauce was totally tasteless and pasty.
Danny got the fried seafood platter.  He said it was delicious, and that the fish was perfectly cooked.  It came with coleslaw and fries which he also enjoyed.  He got plenty of seafood, including clams, scallops, shrimp and cod.
Our server asked us if we wanted dessert and coffee but never said what the dessert was.  We declined.  Guy asked her for a wet nap as he was pretty much covered with lobster juice at this point.  She said she thought they were out of them but would go check in the kitchen.  She came back 10 minutes later with a paper towel that she had dampened.

We won't be going back to this restaurant.  An unenthused server, leftover salads, improperly cooked pasta and sauce, terrible grits, a lobster served without wet naps or bib, and an uninspiring view -- enough reasons not to return.  If you like fried fish, you can get a good meal here, if you consider fried fish and coleslaw a good meal, that is.  For us, we'll move on, though I wish Boston at the Bend the best.  Our meal, by the way, came to $48 without tip.  It included one beer and my entree was half price with a coupon I had clipped.  I went home and ate a peanut butter sandwich.

There were some Greenbrier neighbors at the table next to ours, and one of them volunteered to take a photo of our table.
This was another disappointing meal in New Bern -- a town loaded with restaurants, mostly sub-par.  We heard that the owner is from Boston.  If so, he should then know that no matter which restaurant you go to in Boston, your lobster will come with wet naps and a bib.

A letter to the editor of the Sun Journal in today's paper stated that residents should patronize the new restaurants.  If they serve good meals, people won't need to be reminded.  If they serve sub-par meals, they deserve to go out of business.

Update November 2012:  This restaurant has closed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

RIBEYES STEAKHOUSE -- AN ALMOST GOOD RESTAURANT

Ribeyes Steakhouse, on Pollock Street in downtown New Bern, is well positioned to be a standout eating place.  I wasn't really excited about going here because it sounded to me like one step up from a Ryan's Family Restaurant, but when my hubby sees "steak" in the title name, he wants to go.  So I went, trying to keep an open mind.

First off, we decided, at the last minute, to go on a Friday evening and got there about 6:30.  And the rest of New Bern, it seemed, decided to join us.  The lines were long, the restaurant was completely packed, but, surprisingly, the wait was only 20 minutes.  There is an upstairs and downstairs, and all tables were filled, so I was impressed that the wait was so short, and it certainly is an indication that management has an efficient delivery system in place here.

The menu, which never changes, is conveniently posted on either side of the entrance door.  The lunch menu is on the left, the dinner menu is on the right.  While I don't care for menus that never change and therefore don't take advantage of fresh local produce, I love restaurant menus posted outside the building.  The steaks served are Omaha, which are from grain-fed cows, not my fave beef, but at least the meat is aged for flavor and tenderness.  You can opt for salmon or chicken if you don't want fish, or the salad bar with or without baked white or sweet potato.  The menu is also conveniently posted online at their website.
The inside of the restaurant is beautifully done.  A high staircase takes you upstairs to the next level, and the main dining room downstairs has ceilings that go all the way up to the top of the 2nd floor, creating a spacious feeling.  The acoustics, however, are terrible.  With a big crowd, you can hardly hear yourself think.  Strike 1.
The main dining room (pictured below) is also a thoroughfare.  Anyone going to or from the kitchen, salad bar or drinking bar comes through this open corridor and right past your table.  Between the loud noise of everyone talking and the commotion of everyone passing by the table, it was not a very relaxed atmosphere.  Strike 2.
Here's the view from the salad bar to the main dining room:

We waited for our table in the bar where we could sit and chat.  Too bad they didn't put the main dining room in here and vice versa.  It's a little quieter, and not as much movement in and out.


Our table was right by the open corridor near the constant back and forth movement of the patrons and servers.

On an up note, the salad bar is one of the nicest I've experienced, especially since the ingredients are super-fresh, and the greens are not oversprayed with preservatives.  Chopped hard-boiled egg, bacon, ham and all the usual suspects are there.  Cookie-cutter salad dressings, but it's easy to forgive that with all the other good stuff.


After the server took our orders, we went up to get our salads.  The only complaint we had was there was no bread.  The steak comes with Texas toast, but the salad does not.  Baskets of crackers above the salad bar are the only option for salad eaters.  Of course, you could hold on to your salad until the steak arrives.  The salad bar is so complete, it's easy to make a meal out of it, which is what JoAnn did.  She doesn't like steak.
Guy loaded up but also got an 8 oz. rib eye.
This was my salad, and it was delicious with bacon, egg and ranch dressing.
Finally, our steaks arrived.  We were all shocked.  They were advertised as "thick-cut" steaks.  In actuality, they were 1/2" thick.  To me, that's sandwich steak size.  The flavor was great and the sweet potato, baked potato and Texas toast were all wonderful, but we wanted a thick steak, not a sandwich steak.  Strike 3.  We all decided we weren't coming back.

But then, I thought, it's only right to talk this over with management.  So I went back a week later, when the lunch shift was over, to talk to Manager Rick Ward.  He was very receptive to my suggestion of putting in a knee-wall to separate the main corridor from the dining area.  He also said he would be meeting with engineers this week to find a solution to the acoustics problem.  And, finally, he said the cook last week was from another restaurant and he cut the steaks the wrong thickness.  Rick insists the restaurant will be serving 1-1/2" steaks.  We all decided we will give Ribeyes another shot, because if the changes are made, this restaurant will be great. The quality of the food and the prices are spot on.  Yes we'll try it again, after we check out Persimmons and Boston at the Bend of course.

As we went to get our car, we saw the New Bern carriage ride -- so pretty -- it looks like a pumpkin for Cinderella.

A nice ending for a not-so-great dinner out.

RIBEYES UPDATE:  The following week, we went back to Ribeyes for another steak dinner.  The same special was still posted:  16-oz. thick-cut ribeye steak for two, $34.99.  True to the manager's word, our steaks came 1-1/2" thick.  But they were too charred to enjoy.  The bitterness of  the charring ruined the good flavor of the meat.  We ended up cutting off the tops and bottoms of our steaks, leaving a much smaller piece to eat.  On an upnote, I requested Texas toast with my salad, and the server brought me a piece when I returned from the salad bar.   We've decided, however, we will not be returning for dinners here.

Gluttons for punishment we are.  We tried lunch the following week, thinking surely a 1/2" steak on a sandwich would be great.  What we got was a steak cut even thinner, possibly 1/4", overcooked and dry.  The server  told me when I ordered that it would probably be well done, because it was too thin to cook rare, and he was right.  On an upnote, I didn't want the baked potato or veggies that came as a side.  It was no problem getting a salad from the salad bar instead, at no additional cost.

Bottom line:  If I ever want a salad for lunch, this is where I'll go.  We'll skip the steaks.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

247 CRAVEN -- HIGH HOPES, BIG LETDOWN


247 Craven -- a small bistro reminiscent of downtown Asheville -- boasts a menu specializing in Southern soul/Mediterranean cuisine.  Five of us were excited to try this newcomer and enjoy a top-notch lunch, as Chef Ashley Moser has some enviable credentials:   Culinary Institute of America, followed by cheffing at New Bern Country Club and finally spending two years cheffing in Asheville.   Moser seemed ready to open a restaurant downtown and knock our socks off.

He certainly has created ambience.  All the old walls were taken down to create an inviting, if small, dining space, with the bar as the central focus.  Two large windows create natural light and make the place feel less confining.  The wait staff provides very good service.  This has all the makings of a great dining experience.

Specials are posted on a chalk board to the left of the bar.  

We had a nice table (actually 3 tables pushed together) by the wall, out of the way of traffic, and couldn't wait to try the food.


The crab melt was brought to the table as a cold sandwich with cold crab and cold cheese.  When the server was advised that this was not a crab melt, she answered, "I don't know why he changed that."  A salad and pistachio brittle accompanied the sandwich.  Some of the ladies liked the brittle and others didn't.


My shrimp and crab gumbo came by itself.  The grits were inside the gumbo.  It was good, but I didn't finish it.  


Micki's poached chicken salad with sunnyside egg, bacon and gorgonzola had balsamic dressing.  She said it was good, but the chicken was dry.


Micki's mom ordered the shrimp linguine, but had to send it back because it had bacon in it.  (She's highly allergic to pork).  She got the 'shroom panini, and said she enjoyed it.


We were all a bit disappointed.  Some of us want to try the dinner service to see if it's better, but we're a bit leery now.  If the food here could just match the decor and service, this would be a great place to eat.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

PIA'S -- A QUALITY RESTAURANT WITH GREAT FOOD


Pia's Greek restaurant can be summed up  in one word:  quality.  Right off, I want you to know I am not Greek, and I have no extensive experience with Greek food.  Some of my friends are Greek, and I've tasted their Baklava, Pastitsio, Moussaka and Greek Lamb.  I've even made all of those at home with good results, thanks to my friends' recipes.  But I'm hardly a connoisseur of Greek cuisine.  What I am, though, is someone  who recognizes quality, and Pia's is quality.   


Four of us ate there recently, and all four of us have enough dining experience to know when a restaurant is cutting corners.  In the present economic environment, it's something I'm wary of.  There were no corners cut at Pia's.


We skipped  appetizers and went right to the entrees.  It's not that we didn't want appetizers.  It's just that we didn't want to be bringing home a ton of leftovers.

With our reasonably priced entrees came a basket of assorted warm buttered (with olive oil?) breads and a delightful house salad with fresh greens, chickpeas, red onion, tomato and cucumber. We all requested the house dressing (champagne vinaigrette) and started our first oohs and aahs, as we all were enthralled with the dressing.  We took turns trying to guess what was in it:  lots of parsley, a hint of lemon, olive oil, champagne vinegar, a bit of mustard and some honey?  It's anybody's guess because Pia is keeping the recipe a secret.  Sleuth that I am, I was determined to crack the code.  (A future post will be on champagne vinaigrette -- I think I've come close to cloning this fabulous dressing!) We talked about it for a solid week as I scoured New Bern to find the right champagne vinegar.  The dressing is so good, we each cleaned our cups of it -- we didn't care if the salad was gone, we just wanted more champagne vinaigrette!
House salad with champagne vinaigrette on the side (in cup at  top left)
My hubby and friend Danny both ordered the Danish Bleu Filet Mignon (a grilled 8-oz. Sterling Silver Filet Mignon  topped with Danish bleu cheese herb butter over roasted fingerling potatoes and chef's vegetable).  In case you don't know, Sterling Silver beef is premium aged beef -- high-quality stuff.  Fingerling potatoes are my hubby's fave -- also high quality.   Guy asked for his steak sans bleu cheese, and Danny asked for bleu cheese on the  side.  What can I say?  They're just not adventurous.  Both were happy with the thick-cut filet, though, stating in each case that it was cooked and seasoned perfectly.  Not only was it crazy tender, it had the wonderful flavor of aged beef, something that Guy especially appreciates, since we age our own beef at home.
Guy's filet mignon with fingerling potatoes and fresh veggies

Danny put his bleu cheese on top of his steak.

Joann ordered Asparagus-Bacon Alfredo, a special not on the menu, and was not disappointed.
I had Corfu Chicken and Shrimp Pasta (sauteed chicken tossed with artichoke hearts, baby spinach, wild mushrooms and Kalamata olives in a Greek tomato-garlic sauce served over angel hair pasta finished with grated Romano cheese).  It was not only delicious, it was two meals with lots of big shrimp and juicy plump chicken.
Who could possibly eat dessert after a meal like that?  Guy couldn't even finish his 8 oz. filet and took half of it home to cook with eggs the following morning.  I took home his veggies and half of my entree which became my dinner the following night.  Joann, though full, insisted she had to order baklava, since she is a fan of the sticky sweet dessert.  Baklava is one of those things I don't really appreciate and can live without.  The uber-sweetness and the mix of flavors has just never done anything for me, and I can pass on it with no problem.  But when the dish came to the table, the presentation alone made my mouth water.  Four little pieces of baklava, with fresh orange slices atop a nice mound of sweetened whipped cream, made me think I might still be hungry.  Then Joann gave the verdict:  "This is the best baklava I have ever had."  Joann is no slouch when it comes to food.  If she said it was that good, I had to taste it to see for myself.  My hubby, who hates baklava as much as I, also had to taste it.  The verdict was unanimous -- we are all converted devotees.  When we go back to Pia's for our next dinner, I will be ordering her baklava for dessert.  It's not uber-sweet like other baklavas.  Instead of honey, Pia uses orange juice in the syrup for a more natural flavor.  And in this baklava (as in all of Pia's dishes), the flavors blend perfectly.
What else can I say about Pia's?  The service matches the quality of her food.  Our water glasses never got down past half full.  Pia came to our table to see how everything was, and we had a delightful conversation with her.

The restaurant is small, but when you enter you sense that something is special here.

Something is very special indeed.  This is my new go-to restaurant, and my hubby agrees.  Amazing, since we've not been very easy to please in New Bern.  Most restaurants fail to meet our tough standards.  Either they give me a salad with brown ends on the lettuce and a dressing I don't like, or the entree has a poor-quality protein, or there isn't enough protein in the dish, or....  You get the point.  Pia's passed our test on every level, and I can't wait to go back.

Pia's is one of five area restaurants participating in the Art & Wine Festival August 26, 27 and 28.  A 4-course meal with wine pairing is available for the all-inclusive price of $55 per person.  Tickets may be purchased in person at the Convention Center or Craven  Arts Council & Gallery, or online at the festival website.

Please note that I have received no payments, discounts or free stuff for this review.  These are my opinions and were not influenced in any way by Pia's Restaurant.

UPDATE:  Chef Pia informed me today that, because of health reasons, the New Bern restaurant is closed.  Her recent heart attack has made it very difficult for her to commute daily from Greenville to run the restaurant.  Fortunately, she has another, larger restaurant, in Washington, NC, run by her husband.  We plan on going there soon to get more of her sumptuous food.   Her official website, which is under construction, has menus and background information on Chef Pia, and is worth a visit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

REMEMBERING A GREAT CRAB PARTY


Crab season is officially here, and the crabs are huge this year!  The Crab Guy got 80 beautiful blue claws for this party.  They were full of sweet crab meat and perfectly steamed.  The Crab Guy always removes the backs of the crabs and cleans out the innards, then ices the crabs.  They go into the steamer cleaned, so they're not only easier to eat, they taste better.  Some Chesapeake Bay seafood seasoning is sprinkled over the crab layers in the steamer, and cider vinegar spiced with the seasoning along with melted butter go on the table with the crabs.  There's nothing fussy here -- the crabs are dumped in the center of the table and people help themselves.

Two tables were set up for crabs with appropriate crab paper and The Crab Guy's own handmade crab boards.

In the meantime, for those who were waiting to get to a crab table, there was plenty of food to keep them from starving.  For instance, these great stuffed crabs, made by Gary:

Besides my salted oatmeal-cranberry-white chocolate chunk-pecan cookies, I brought some homemade sun-dried tomato hummus --
There were lots of fresh veggies and dip, thanks to Joann --
Several pasta salads, potato salads, dips and spreads also graced the table.
No one left hungry -- or thirsty for that matter.  A keg of beer was emptied plus a lot of wine, soda and water.  This was one hungry crowd.
I'm not sure how many people were there.  Some were inside, some were outside, some were walking in the woods, some were playing ball on the front lawn.  There were a lot.
There were all ages -- young'ns,

teens,
parents of all ages, and seniors.
Joann and Danny found a spot near the fire pit.
The Crab Guy and I joined them there.
But, sadly, somehow I missed taking a photo of our hosts.  Mickey and Tom, forgive me.  I'll get you next year, promise.