Archive for August, 2009

Brewsters Italian Café

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Brewster’s Italian Café
New Buffalo, MI

Good Food : 4.5/5 | Good Service : 4.5/5

Living in a semi-tourist destination area of the state, there is a corridor south of us off the I-94 highway where several very good restaurants & food places have taken root to satisfy the out-of-town palates. Over the past 15 years, we’ve sampled many of the restaurants (Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, American home-cooking, modern fusion, etc). One of our favorites that we return to again and again is Brewster’s Italian Café in New Buffalo, MI.

The husband and I discovered Brewster’s back in 2000 during a tourist day in New Buffalo. They bill themselves as a small Italian deli/café, with several tables sprinkled alongside the deli case/ open kitchen area. You can stop by for a cup of coffee in the morning, order salads or sandwiches for lunch, or sit down for dinner.

The chef at Brewster’s does a tasting each night of the day’s entrees before service with the wait staff, so that the wait staff is able to accurately offer recommendations when asked by diners. We are always impressed by their extensive wine list, wood-fired oven pizzas and their great service. We’ve even stumped their wait staff several times when a wine we chose for our dinner turned out to be so popular that they had run out :D

Over the years, Brewster’s has expanded their dining area as more locals and tourists have discovered them. The expansion including adding a new dedicated bar area & outdoor patio dining areas, allowing them to almost triple their dining capacity. This expansion has not affected their ability to consistently deliver a great dining experience.

What also hasn’t changed is their food philosophy. Brewster’s menu changes daily, and at first glance seems too simple. The menu is broken up into several sections (appetizers, salads, soup, entrees and wood-fired oven pizzas). There are no more than 5 different main entrées that are offered at any one time, representing chicken, seafood, vegetarian and beef/lamb. However, the limited menu offering is a wise choice, as it allows them to execute ALL their food items very well. We’ve never had a food item which was not perfectly cooked or executed as described on their menu, and the wait staff are very attentive and genuinely help you enjoy your dining visit.

Portions are very generous, and they even offer a ‘Dinner for 2′ option – your choice of a 2 ingredient pizza as your appetizer, one main entree and a cookie/cup of house coffee for dessert -all this for under $37 for 2 people. Even when we choose this option, we usually end up taking home leftover pizza and our main entree.

2 hours for takeout …

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Ban Thai Restaurant
2936 Niles Ave
St. Joseph, MI

Good Food : N/A | Good Service : 0/5

So we didn’t feel like cooking one night, and the husband and I thought we would try out the latest restaurant to open in our area a month ago – a Thai restaurant. As our regions is primarily limited to the 4 major restaurant types (Chinese, Mexican, Italian, or major chain), we were very excited to try a new place that did not fit the typical food type. Originally, we were going to wait until after the summer tourist season had died down but as we had some errands to run in the town where the new restaurant was located, we thought ‘Why not get some takeout and try it out?’ Plus it had been several weeks since I had been to my favorite Thai place back in California, so I quickly agreed when the husband suggested takeout.

When we pulled up to the restaurant around 7:30pm, there was a full line of cars – a good sign to us. Even better was seeing a completely full dining room. So we started browsing through the paper dinner menu to figure out what we wanted. After a quick perusal, we knew what we wanted and flagged down one of the 2 employees manning the dining room :

First Waitstaff : May I help you?
Me : We would like to order takeout.
First Waitstaff : Just one moment (runs to get a notepad to take our order …)

In the meantime, the second person manning the dining room sees us :

Second Waitstaff : Please feel free to take this table (he gestures to an empty table that had just been cleared)
Me : Actually, we would like to place a takeout order.
Second Waitstaff : (looks slightly disturbed) Oh, we have a very full dining room tonight and won’t be able to get to your order … for about 2 hours. Why don’t you take this table?
Me : (shock) Thank you, but due to our schedule we don’t have time to dine in, so we wanted to order takeout instead.
Second Waitstaff : Well, we won’t be able to help you tonight, so please come again to dine with us.

2 hours wait for takeout?! Needless to say, we left very unhappy. Fortunately, we were able to satisfy ourselves in our local Chinese/Cantonese/Szechuan place tonight.

We tried to reason out why the second waitstaff (who obviously was the owner) treated us the way he did :

  • Perhaps he had received a large number of takeout orders prior to us coming in
  • Perhaps the kitchen was understaffed tonight, so they were currently overwhelmed trying to satisfy the dine-in orders
  • It was a Saturday night at prime dinner time, so perhaps the restaurant had gotten overwhelmed …

But, in the end, we realized it was because the owner did NOT want to take a takeout order (remember, he gave us a 2 hour takeout window, but then offered to seat us at a table immediately). We believe that he intentionally turned down our walk-in business in an effort to garner dine-in customers (and conversely the tip that the sit-in sale would generate).

Now, if you’re going to open a restaurant that only does dine-in service & advertise it this way, then I don’t have a problem with that. It means that prospective diners keep this mind when you want to dine at that particular establishment. But, this restaurant had prominently advertised ‘Dine In, Carry Out and Catering’ on its website and menus, but then refused to honor this advertisement.

Just because we’re not located in Chicago doesn’t mean that you can drop your level of customer service. Many of the people who live in the area didn’t grow up here, and are used to city-level type service. So just because Chicago people are opening a restaurant not in Chicago doesn’t give them the excuse to drop their level of service. ‘Shame on you!’ to the owner and this restaurant.

Evidently we’re not the only ones to have an unpleasant experience – Yelp reviews

Fat’s Asian Bistro

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Fat’s Asian Bistro & Dim Sum Bar
Roseville, CA

Good Food : 4/5 | Good Service : 4.5/5

Ending up last year in the Rocklin/ Roseville area during my California travels, I stopped here often when I would get my Chinese/Asian food hankerings. This restaurant is one property under the Fat’s Restaurant family.

This particular restaurant bills itself as an asian bistro/dim sum bar. Their menu tries to reflect this, offering several standard dim sum dishes, seasonal trendy sushi rolls and some non-typical Asian dishes which can be categorized as Asian ‘comfort food’ from a range of Asian cuisines (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai).

Fat’s tries very hard to bring non-typical Asian dishes to the American palate while not offering dishes which may be too unfamiliar to their diners. Their dim sum basket/sampler includes shrimp har gow, pork shu mei, and chicken pot stickers (3 each), and their Rock ‘n Roll sampler platter offers 1 each of their shakka roll, shrimp and avocado roll and Vietnamese spring roll. The salt & pepper shrimp with asparagus does not skimp on the shrimp. The Fat’s Wor Won Ton soup is not a skimpy broth, but bursts with shrimp, pork won tons and lots of fresh stir-fry vegetables.

To help the bistro concept, Fat’s also offers a full bar, not only offering hot or cold sake or hot green tea for traditional food aficionados, but a large offering of custom martinis and mixed cocktails.

Definitely a good place to stop to fulfill that Asian food craving! :D