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Gastronomic Fight Club SM

Mischief. Mayhem. Soup.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tasting Menus in Omaha

posted by snekse
Just want to say "Welcome" to the Omaha World-Herald readers who arrived here through today's article on fixed price menus.

Whether you call them Tasting Menus, Chef's Menus, Omakase, Prix Fixe, Kitchen Tables, Wine Dinners, or even just combo meals, they all share a common thread - you must give up at least some control over what you're going to eat (and of course a fixed price). Giving up a little bit of control means you have to be a little adventurous, but it's not like we're talking about sky diving here. It's just food.

If you haven't sampled some of the tasting menus around town, I highly encourage you to give them a try. There's no better way to quickly decide if you like a restaurant or not, than to try a bunch of food in one visit. To give you an idea of what you might encounter, I've included some links below that are related to the places mentioned in the article. You can also click the picture in the upper right-hand corner to visually whet your appetite.

There are some more Omaha restaurants that were not mentioned in the article that also serve some variation of a prix fixe menu:
  • Le Voltaire offers a bistro menu with an appetizer, entree and dessert for $30.
  • Flemming's Steakhouse offers 3 levels of "Discovery Dinners" that include wine.
  • The Tasting Room has a 6 course Chef’s tasting menu (Minimum of 4 guests, reservations required 72 hours in advance).
  • I know Darwin Bistro has talked about doing one, but I haven't heard anything from them about it yet. However, I know Paul would be willing to do something upon request if given enough notice.
  • UPDATE: I noticed the OWH has some additional restaurants listed with the online article.
For more resources, be sure to check out our List of Omaha Restaurant Websites and the Omaha Food Events Calendar.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Omaha's Best Dining Experiences (2006)

posted by snekse
A theme appears to be developing here.

John Keenan, dining critic for the Omaha World Herald, recently published his best dining experiences for 2006. An interesting read. Nothing really shocking on there, but I was a little surprised that Liberty Tavern was nowhere on the list. The list was heavily represented by V. Mertz, Paxton Chop House and Jack Binion's Steakhouse. I've only been to V. Mertz, but if the other two are comparable, then I'd be hard to find fault in the list. I would have also liked to have seen Sage get a special mention, at least for the experience aspect.

It's not entirely clear, but I think he also named a best of list that is linked in the upper right-hand corner. Whatever it is, I've posted it here.
  • The French Cafe ~ A five-star experience
  • Jack Binion's Steakhouse ~ No gamble with these dishes
  • O Casual Dining ~ Inventive chef equals exciting menu
  • Paxton Chop House ~ New presence in downtown fine dining
  • The Tasting Room ~ Come for the wine, stay for the cuisine
  • V. Mertz ~ Seemingly effortless elegance
Though their food is good, I doubt we'll see The Tasting Room on that list next year. There are just too many places in Omaha that are stepping up their game to let your menu become as stagnate as there's has become. Hopefully we'll see Darwin on there for 2007 and see Liberty Tavern get back some limelight.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The lists that started it all

posted by snekse
So I figured I should give a little background on why I decided to list the Health Inspection Ratings for 2006.

I try to keep up with all of the local news and reviews about all things food related for the Omaha area. Yesterday I read Jim Delmont's list of top ten dining spots of 2006. I won't go into how unexceptional his list is since every list gets attacked for various reasons.

Instead, I want to focus on one specific pick: Hong Kong Cafe (Miracle Hills location). I have never eaten at this restaurant, yet I believe it's made this paid food critics list on more than one occasion. The reason this surprises me is because of the article below. Would you trust a critic that recommends a place cited for keeping chicken at 63.8 degrees outside in a bucket?

Eight Omaha Restaurants Get Poor Health Grades
Inspectors Rate Restaurant Good-Fair In 8 Cases


POSTED: 12:24 pm CST February 9, 2005
UPDATED: 8:52 am CST February 10, 2005

OMAHA, Neb. -- Health department records obtained by KETV NewsWatch 7 find eight Omaha restaurants with a pattern of code violations. Each restaurant has received the health department's lowest rating on four consecutive inspections.

Investigator Carol Kloss went behind kitchen doors to see how health inspectors are trying to ensure that your dining out experience is a healthy one.

With cameras rolling, Kloss dropped in on the eight restaurants. The Douglas County Health Department inspects every restaurant twice a year and gives them a grade. The highest grade is "excellent, " then "excellent-good, " "good" and the lowest grade is "good-fair." Anything lower than that and the health department would shut the restaurant down.

"To actually shut a place down on the spot, we need to have an immediate health risk to the public," said Jeff Radcliffe, a Douglas County restaurant inspector.

Radcliffe said that is rare. He's been inspecting restaurants in Douglas County for 16 years.

"The inspector has to look at the overall restaurant and try to conclude, are these people trying to keep a clean restaurant and address problems, or are they letting things slide?" Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe said the restaurants that let things slide get the "good-fair" grade. Kloss went to visit those establishments that got a "good-fair" four times in a row. The visits included:

Cascio's Steakhouse, on South 10th Street
China One Restaurant, at 108th Street and John Galt Boulevard
Don Carmelo's Pizzeria, at 35th and Farnam streets
El Palenque, on South 24th Street
Hong Kong Café, at 114th and Dodge streets
Lee's China, at 75th and Pacific streets
Richie's Chicken & Ribs, at 35th and Center streets
The Sitar, at 125th and West Center Road

Kloss dropped in on each of these restaurants, checking if they've made improvements since their last health department inspection.

"I don't want you guys in here this time," someone at Richie's Chicken said upon Kloss arrival.

This wasn't the first time Kloss had dropped in at Richie's Chicken & Ribs. The last time Richie made the list was in 1998. He cooperated with camera crews that time, but not this time.

Richie wasn't the only one that didn't let Kloss in. Cascio's owner wasn't available to give permission to see the kitchen. A manager on duty tried to reach the owner, but no one answered the phone.

Some restaurants did let the camera into their kitchens.

"Sure, you can come take a look," said Albert Mah, the owner of Hong Kong Cafe.

During its last inspection, the health department cited the Hong Kong cafe for storing chicken at temperatures above 45 degrees. When Kloss checked, temperatures appeared to be just at or below 45.

Kloss: "That looks pretty close. Before they said the chicken was at 63.8 degrees Fahrenheit."

Mah: "That must have been at time when the chicken was outside in a bucket."

Kloss: "Do you have chicken in a bucket right now?"

Mah: "No. Everything's stored in there."

At Don Carmelo's, the inspector didn't find any temperature problems, but she did find a back room in disrepair and with improper lighting.

Kloss: "Have there been improvements made?"

Pat Mischo, Don Carmelo's owner: "Yeah, I've put this light in. I'm trying to get this ceiling painted."

At the China One Buffet, cold foods are now below 45 degrees at 41.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Kloss also looked at the hot foods, and found they were kept about 135 degrees -- just as the health inspector ordered.

China One Buffet had also been cited in 2004 for mouse droppings in a the utility room. Kloss revisited that room, and took her tape to pest expert Dennis Ferraro.

Kloss: "Are these still mouse dropping back here?"

After looking at the videotape, Ferraro said that's exactly what they were. Some of the droppings have been here awhile, he said.

"You have the white ones, which means they're very old, and the black here, shiny, that's fairly fresh," Ferraro said.

A representative with China One Buffet was asked whether mousetraps are used where the droppings were found. He said there are traps out and they have been catching mice.

Kloss video also showed a gray mass on the floor.

"Gosh, it almost looks like fur," Ferraro said. "That's much bigger than a mouse, and it's not the color of a mouse."

Ferraro said it could be shredded material that the mice have turned into bedding. Not even the pest expert knows for sure. But he does know that China One has some kind of serious rodent problem.

"There should be very little tolerance for rodents, especially the house mouse," Ferraro said.

But it is apparently not serious enough to shut China One down.

"No," inspector Radcliffe said. "That wouldn't necessarily be enough to say, 'Hey, you're closed right now.'"

China One does have proof of regular visits from the pest exterminator. But Ferraro thinks the restaurant could make better use of traps and bait stations inside and out to get rid of mice once and for all.

"They could be reproducing on the inside, and that bait station on the outside isn't stopping the reproduction of mice indoors," Ferraro said.

Radcliffe agrees that all of the restaurants on Kloss list could do better. He said it's no excuse for restaurants to say they're old or impossible to keep clean. He said owners just need to show some effort.

Eight of Douglas County's 1,393 restaurants got the lowest grades. When Kloss checked 5 years ago, 13 made the list, and there were 132 fewer restaurants in the city then.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rock the Vote: 2007 James Beard Nominations

posted by snekse
James Beard Logo
For all of you hardcore megalomaniac foodies out there, here's your chance to weld your powers. The James Beard Foundation has digitized their nomination process. So now you can influence others by nominating your favorite gastronomic idols for free at home in the comfort of your own pajamas/underwear/birthday suit, or who knows, maybe even someone else's underwear.

Oh, and for those in my neck of the woods, take heed to the little factoid that the ulterior epicure pointed out.
One notable change in this year's categories: they've bifurcated the "Midwest" states (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI) and the "Great Lakes" states (IL, IN, MI, OH) categories. No offense, Illinois, but you know, you all were hogging the awards for the middle of the country. The way Chicago's been performing, lately, I wouldn't be surprised if you all got your own category next year! Now, maybe some local Kansas City chefs can close in on an award!

So get out America and Rock the Vote this election Tuesday!

The nominees have been announced.
As have the Winners of the 2007 James Beard Awards.

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