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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Around the World in 80 Blocks

posted by snekse
24th Street Building
The United States is often called the melting pot of the world. Many cultures living together under one roof so to speak. Yet outside of places like Berkeley CA, the diversity in most cities is segregated into little cloisters. Out of these enclaves come neighborhoods that get labels like Chinatown, Little Italy and Spanish Harlem. And of course in each of those, you'll often find the best of that region's cuisine.

24th Street - Omaha, NE

Paul and Nick

The Longest Street in the World

In Omaha, 24th street not only connects South Omaha to North Omaha, but it also connects many cuisines to one another. You can take a culinary tour around the world by starting at one and working your way towards the other. And that's what we did.

With the company of Paul Kulik (Executive Chef; The Boiler Room) and Nick Strawhecker (Executive Chef; Dante Pizzeria Napoletana), we started just South of the South Omaha Main Street Historic District and ate our way up past the Near North side. We sampled Mexican, Thai, Ethiopian, Barbecue and Soul Food with some good old Midwestern fried carp and beef jerky thrown in for good measure - all in about 4 hours.

For some people, wandering into a random ethnic restaurant and ordering something unfamiliar is a bit terrifying. I'm here to tell you to just let go; don't be afraid. If need be, ask for help. As long as you avoid your allergens, nothing is likely to kill you. And if it tastes gross, so what. It's just food. Order something else. The point is you don't have to travel to eat exotic foods. My bet is that there's something on a menu in town that you've never had before. It could be something as simple as a Mexican mole to something as exotic as bird's nest soup. Just get out there and explore what your city has to offer.

Exploring the Cuisine of Omaha

So let's take a look at some of the things we discovered during our trek.

Seafood Cocktail
How would you like to start your morning off with one of these each morning? El 7 Mares is open at 10 am each morning and specializes in seafood from a distinctly Mexican perspective. We asked our waitriss what their specialty was and she pointed us to the La Campechana Pescado Cocteles. This massive goblet was filled with a a nice tomato broth similar to a gazpacho with piles of shrimp, calamari, octopus and oysters. This was much sweeter then cocktails any of us had tried in the past and was a great way to begin our day.

Next we headed to Joe Tess Place for their "Famous Fish" which just happens to be fried carp. I wish we had good things to say about this odd delicacy, but the fish left a lot to be desired. We'll leave it at that. They do offer Schlitz beer, which could be seen as a bonus in some circles :-)

Tacos at Taqueria Tijuana
Putting that memory behind us, we headed to our most anticipated destination of the day - Taqueria Tijuana. Many a debate is often had about where to find the best Mexican food in Omaha. Many of our trusted friends have told us about the amazing tacos at Taqueria Tijuana, yet none of us had been yet. Cut to the chase: A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! There was some very colorful, passionate language used, but I'll paraphrase and just say "That's a damn good taco". I think the phrase "Best Taco in Omaha" was also used. Oh, and I know we got 4 different tacos, but those statements stand across the board.

Laos Thai Market
Pay. Jump in the car. Head down the road. Laos Thai Market. Another place I've heard I must hit. A spot that's half market, half restaurant with no real line between the two. An incredibly small kitchen is tucked in the back with residential refrigerators for coolers. The entire place is run by 3 people. Presumably mom and grandma in the back cooking and cleaning with the son waiting tables in the front. Unfortunately that killed our time line taking over 20 minutes to get our green curry with chicken. It was *almost* worth it. The curry was spicy, clean and balanced - not at all cloying with coconut milk.

Back in the car to see what else we can find. A quick drive-by Shang-Hai Garden Chinese & Mexican food for a laugh, but no food. Then a pit stop at Stoysich House of Sausage for some jerky that Paul had been calling "meat butter". Opps, that was Wohlner's Grocery that had the "meat butter". Nothing wrong with the Stoysich jerky though. Next place.

Doro Wat
Here I elected to cheat just a tad. The International Cafe is a 1/2 block off of 24th Street, but how do you pass up the opportunity to have East African food in Omaha? Don't be thrown off the trail by the "House of Gyros" tagline. Inside are the goods. Falafel, Sambusa, something called Mendase and more. We ordered the Doro Wat on Injera. We quickly dug into the braised chicken in a nice rich red sauce. You'd swear has tomatoes in it, but you'd be wrong. The injera here was rather delicate, so forks are not a bad idea. Keep in mind that being Muslim requires prayer through-out the day, so be prepared to wait if you go during one of these times.

Southern Boys Cafe
For our last stop with the full crew, we sought out the Southern Boys Cafe. Not much to look at on the outside, but the inside is plastered with character. Pictures, posters and the guitar in the corner give you a fast idea about the owner in case you don't get a chance to meet him. We got a chance to talk to the owner and I think the place is appropriately named. We ordered ribs and fried okra, but were easily talked into getting the fried catfish as well. Everything was excellent. The ribs were unique with just a ton of flavors going on. The okra was some of the best I've ever had.

At this point, Paul and Nick both had to head back to "the office". I chose to carry on since there were a couple more places I wanted to check out.

I was told I should stop at Chef Mike's Community Cafe. Since Thursday's are soul food day at Mike's, who was I to argue. It was not what I was expecting it to be. Don't expect a restaurant. Instead this is basically a cafeteria. My stomach was getting full and I had other stops I wanted to make, so I decided to pass. If you think I made a mistake, leave a comment and tell me how great the place is.

Bills BBQ Omaha
Back in the car and continue up 24th to a place I haven't been to in years. I was a little proud of myself for knowing of a barbecue place that one of the members of Greater Omaha Barbecue Society hadn't heard of. Not to mention a little funny since the person in question happens to share the same name as the location in question. Granted the place is called Bill's BBQ, Liquor Store and Gas, so not being a dedicated barbecue joint might have something to do with the oversight. Waiting for your 4 bone ribs while people get rolling papers, alcohol and Starbursts is a little amusing. I should also mention, in case it wasn't clear, this is not a restaurant. There are no seats, no counters, and certainly no hostess. You walk up to the barred window, order your food and go. It's not the best BBQ in Omaha, but it's not bad and worth a slight detour if you're in the area.

Sage Bistro
My final stops for the day actually weren't on 24th Street. I popped up to the Institute for Culinary Arts at Metro Community College to drop off some of Bill's barbecue to some friends. If you haven't seen their new building yet, get out there ASAP. It's amazing. I believe Omaha will become a destination school for those entering the culinary field because of the incredible work put into this new facility. And if you haven't been to Sage Student Bistro, change your dinner plans soon. This is one of my favorite places to eat in Omaha.

By now it was time to head home. Since my wife didn't get a chance to join me, I wanted to bring home some dinner. What did I bring her? Some of the Best Fried Chicken in Omaha from Time Out Foods at 30th and Pinkney. A good Southern style fried chicken with a nice crunch and a spiciness that adds a little zip, but is not overpowering. The potato salad and coleslaw were both tasty as well.

It was a long day and a food coma ensued, but it was completely worth it. Hopefully our journey will inspire others to really investigate all their town has to offer and uncover some special gems that are worth the trek. Eat well.

Special Thanks To...
Foodbuzz for funding our tour.
Paul Kulik and Nick Strawhecker for joining me.
Food & Spirits Magazine from whom I borrowed this idea.
All the restaurants that we visited for just being there.

Apologies There was supposed to be video to go along with this post. I'm still trying to get the technical difficulties worked out on that one.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

New Omaha Food Bloggers - Q3 2009

posted by snekse
As more foodies start blogging and existing food bloggers move to Omaha, our list of Omaha Food Bloggers continues to grow. I'll be updating the list occasionally as we find these new blogs. We also have one subtraction since Greg Bullard has moved to Austin, TX. Greg is still doing some reviews of Omaha restaurants, so keep an eye out for those. Now check out our latest additions:

Omaha Food Bloggers

Tweet it out for #FollowFriday

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Omaha Food Bank - O! What a Duck Race 2009

posted by snekse
O What a Duck Race Logo
We've decided to make The Omaha Food Bank the primary beneficiary of our charitable efforts at Gastronomic Fight Club. We hope to share more information about that in the coming months. Right now, however, everyone can help the Food Bank with their largest fundraiser of the year which is just starting to ramp up this weekend.

The Omaha Food Bank's 2nd Annual
"O! What a Duck Race!"

July 25, 2009
Adopt a Duck ~ Feed the Hungry

Over 50,000 ducks will be dropped into the lake at Heartland of America Park and will race for a quarter mile until one duck is the Grand Prize Winner of a Nissan Versa! And one lucky duck will have a chance to win One Million Dollars!

Nissan Versa

The day will start with FREE family-friendly activities for all ages, great food, live music, and will culminate in the racing of the derby ducks for a grand prize of the Nissan Versa!

Date: July 25, 2009
Where: Heartland of America Park
Schedule: Stay tuned for race day details!

Grand Prize: Nissan Versa
Sponsored by: Nissan of Omaha

Funds raised benefit The Food Bank and the thousands of people struggling to put food on the table for their families.

Adopt a Duck

$5 "Just Quacky" (1)
1 Duck Adoption

$25 "Six Quack" (6)
Adopt 5 Ducks, Get 1 Free

$40 "Sack of Quacks" (10)
Adopt 8 Ducks, Get 2 Free

$100 "Max Quacks" (25)
Adopt 20 Ducks, Get 5 Free

Get more information on adopting ducks for "O! What a Duck Race!".

Why Adopt a Duck?

All proceeds go to the Omaha Food Bank to support their many local programs. The food bank has set a goal of getting 50,000 derby ducks adopted for this fund raiser. The derby ducks will be dropped into the lake and the first six to cross the finish line will be the winners. The Grand Prize is a 2009 Nissan Versa, with an Alaskan Cruise and family membership to Prairie Life Fitness also among the prizes.

More importantly, consider the benefits provided by your donation.

What does "Adopting a Duck" Really Mean?

$5 spent adopting ducks feeds a family of four for 1 day.
$25 spent adopting ducks feeds a family of four for 1 week
$100 spent adopting ducks feeds a family of four for 1 month.

The Food Bank is more than a faceless building or a lifeless warehouse. The Food Bank is a lifeline to children, families and senior citizens...and they are The Food Bank. In the past few years, they have distributed between 5 and 7 million pounds of food to over 360 member agencies in eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. In addition to the food distribution, The Food Bank supports four direct programs:

* The Senior Outreach Program
* The Food for Kids BackPack Program
* Kids Cafe
* Mobile Pantry

A huge thanks to everyone who is able to help with this effort.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sage Bistro - Spring 2009

posted by snekse
We had a great time meeting everyone at Sage Bistro on the 16th. I just wanted to say Thank You to all of those who were able to attend and to the staff at the Institute for the Culinary Arts for making our event very enjoyable. We'll be having more events like this in the future, so keep your eyes peeled or subscribe to our email updates to keep informed. Of course you could always suggest a foodie gathering yourself if you're interested in doing something sooner rather than later.

Thanks again to everyone.

Sage Advice 2: The Aftermath @ What Greg Eats

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Eat Like a Human - Grow Your Own

posted by snekse
The following is a guest post from Brian Smith. Brian and his wife Kelly operate Black Sheep Farms, a chemical-free family farm near Bennington. He is a speaker and writer on the topic of local food, and he has a minor food addiction. You can read more of his writings at Food & Spirit Magazine

On the eve of Earth Day, I am reminded of how food connects us to the Earth and makes us human. It's currently in vogue to "eat local," shop at farmers markets and join a co-op or Community Supported Agriculture group. I understand the importance of these movements. I decided to become a farmer after volunteering at a farmers market and reading many books focused on modern food issues.

It's okay to eat for political reasons. But what about flavor and experience?

Many chefs will tell you that the main reason they buy food from local growers is flavor. It's not because they feel their money should support a small business, a local business or a friend. It's not because they want to reduce pollution from transportation. More than anyone else, chefs love to eat. They love to play with flavors and experience the full range of intensity. No chef likes a rock-hard-plain-old-red tomato from Mexico in February. But they love ripe Cherokee Purples and fresh greens picked four hours ago. Taste.

The experience of producing your own food changes the dynamics of eating. If you've ever made bread, you are much more conscious of its quality while you eat it. You understand the work that went into producing the final product, so details pop out more. Crust. Crumb. Moisture. That lump of undercooked dough in the middle. The more you cook, the more you understand about the kitchen.

Combine food politics, flavor and experience and grow your own. Forget your black-thumb fears and those pre-started plants from the hardware store. Do it from seed. That sense of wonder you experienced sprouting a bean as a kindergartner never diminishes. People have been tending to plants for thousands of years, so I have confidence you can do it.

Try growing something small, like corn salad (also called mache or rapunzel). You can do it in a pot by a sunny window. Make a shallow row, drop in the seeds, cover them and add water. Wait.

There are no excuses. A packet of heirloom veggie seeds costs less than $3. When more people get involved in their own food, environmental issues will start to make more sense. By touching food at all stages, we can understand how it affects us on physical, mental and environmental levels. We can see how much it means to be a part of Nature. Plus, you will eat better foods than you can buy, and there's no reason to overthink that.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Join us at Sage Bistro

posted by snekse
It that time of year again. ?There's one for you, nineteen for me. 'Cause I'm the taxman?

Some of you will be getting a nice rebate check and want to do your part to help stimulate the economy. Others will be feeling the hurt and are looking to pinch some pennies. Luckily we can do both at a place like Sage Bistro.

So join Gastronomic Fight Club, The Foodies of Omaha Discussion Board, some of our fellow Omaha Food Bloggers and other foodies in general for some great food and an even better time! [Note: Sage does not have a liquor license, but you can bring your own wine which they can serve.]

Prix Fixe by Student Sous Chef, Betty Gomez

five layer dip
cilantro salad
fresh corn chips

coquille st. jacque

langostine thermador
lobster "tamales"
broiled tail
black bean & cactus nage


Event Details

Date: Thursday, April 16th, 2009
Time: 6:00 PM - Meet and Greet; 6:30 PM - Dinner
Cost: $28 plus tax (Non-alcoholic drinks included)
Place: Sage Bistro
  N 30th St & Fort St. (map)
  Metro's Fort Omaha campus
  Building #10
  Omaha, NE 68111
Phone: (402) 457-2328


You can R.S.V.P. using this form or on Facebook (Please don't double up). I'll leave the form open until about April 8th. We can only accommodate 80 people, so don't wait too long to reserve your spot. After you R.S.V.P., make sure you add the event to your calendar.The RSVP window for this event has closed. Thanks to everyone who could make it.

See you there!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Omaha Food Bloggers

posted by snekse
When I first started this blog back in 2005, the foodie scene in Omaha was pretty underground. Slowly we've seen some encouraging changes. More locals joining the social sites like Foodbuzz, eGullet and Chowhound. More reviews going up on sites like yelp and urbanspoon. The Omaha World-Herald finally got a clue and gave food it's own subsection on their website. Food and Spirits magazine brought a dedicated local food publication to the area. And most importantly, more Omaha food bloggers have begun sharing their own thoughts and experiences.

With that, let me introduce you to our fellow Omaha Food Bloggers and announce the creation of the Omaha Food Bloggers Blog Roll. Blogs marked with a ** were added after our initial announcement.

Meet The Omaha Food Bloggers

The 2 Foodies

http://the2foodies.org/ **
Kenton and Melissa make some great food, and better yet, take some amazing pictures of said food. The many recipes on their site cover both cooking and baking and they're not afraid to share their experiments.

Eating Outside of the Box

A couple from Nebraska doing their best to minimize their reliance on processed foods (i.e., they strive to eat primarily “outside of the box”). They’ve created this blog as a way of giving people an “insider’s view” of what it’s like to live a life quite unlike the average American. While many folks are out at the bars or movies on the weekends, they are likely visiting a local farm or making homemade mayonnaise!!!

food eaten.

Lainey Seyler writes for The Reader, but this is her personal blog where she records her "culinary fiascos and successes." She has lots of recipes and provides plenty of entertainment. She warns you to "Expect exaggeration."

Gastronomic Fight Club

A food blog with a mission to find the best of the best. Their focus is to provide readers with unbiased critical reviews of all things food (and sometimes technology) related. The focus is mainly on Omaha restaurants, local and national food news, wine, beer and the occasional book reviews and recipes.


Five geeks from Omaha rate restaurants, fast food, and various other interesting comestibles. That's right, five mini reviews for every restaurant. And with a new restaurant being reviewed about once a week, there's plenty to read.

Jamie's Kitchen

http://www.jamies-recipes.com/ **
Jamie recently moved to Omaha from Iowa with her husband, their two daughters and a smelly dog. She loves cooking; She is a food fanatic. This year her dream of becoming a stay home mom has come true! This time has allowed her to do lots of cooking and recipe developing. A win-win situation for her and for us as well as she blogs about her food adventures.

Omaha Critic

Omaha Restaurant Reviews one bite at a time. The Omaha Critic provides honest reviews of various restaurants around the city giving each one a rating. If you want a kids point of view, you can also check out Omaha Critic - JUNIOR.

Former Omaha Food Bloggers

Unfortunately, bloggers occasionally move or just stop blogging. This is a list of food bloggers who used to be on the OFBBR.

Check it out

Avesta considers herself a modern ethnic chef. She's been cooking since she was a toddler, and food has always been very important in her family. When she was 29 years old she opened Avesta Eclectic Cuisine (in a different city). She recently moved to Omaha and is planning on making her mark here.

Eat Like Athena

http://www.eatlikeathena.com **
Amber Share is passionate about slow food and is inspired by the Mediterranean. She is professionally trained and has gained some valuable experience. The experience shows as you puruse her recipes. Oh, and she also takes some great food photography as well.

Food Geekery

http://www.foodgeekery.com/ **
Jason Kelly is a relatively new foodie. In mid-2008 he decided to really start cooking at home. His site covers all of the interesting aspects of his journey into foodie-dom, from recipes to restaurant reviews.

What Greg Eats

Greg Bullard’s love for food began in his Father’s kitchen and grew from there to be a cornerstone of his life. Greg is a firm believer in the concept that you live to eat, not eat to live. Living in Omaha, NE now, Greg's other musings can be found at Well Fed on the Town

Omaha Not-Quite-Food Bloggers

There are also several blogs out there that are food related, though not really about food.

Kevin Lynch On Wine

http://www.kevinlynchonwine.com **
A site where, hopefully, information and humor, seamlessly gel -- assuming gels can have seams. Kevin is a food and wine writer who recently moved back to Omaha from the San Francisco bay area.

Nebraska Beer Blog

http://nebraskabeer.blogspot.com/ **
I bet you didn't know there was enough going on in the Nebraska Beer world to maintain an active blog about it. Well there is, and a very passionate one at that. This is the spot for all you need to know about Nebraska beer, brewing, events and everything that centers around beer in this great state.

Meet the Omaha Food Bloggers Blog Roll

So here's the thing - the hard part about writing a blog is keeping it going. Life often gets in the way and the writing muse doesn't always want to dance with you. Before long it's been 6 weeks since your last post and readers have forgotten about you. And from a readers standpoint, it's not always practical to check each of the blogs above on a regular basis. That's where the Omaha Food Bloggers Blog Roll comes in. The blog roll is a shared Atom/RSS feed that can be subscribed to so you'll have a constant stream of new content delivered to your feedreader, email or whatever you use. We hope other good things will also come of this. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to re-boot the Foodies of Omaha Discussion Board and start meeting regularly. If we do, you'll already be in the know because you clicked one of the links below.

Subscribe to Omaha Food Blogger Posts

Or Subscribe by Email

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Foodies of Omaha Meeting: Brunch @ Sage Bistro

posted by snekse
We'll be meeting for brunch at Sage Bistro on Sunday, January 27th 2008 at 11:00 AM. If you're not a Foodies of Omaha member and you'd like to join us for brunch, just call the number below and ask to be added to the Foodies of Omaha reservation. See you there!

Sage Bistro Prime Rib Brunch Buffet
* Adults - $15
* Kids 12 and under - $7
* Kids 2 and under - free

Sage Bistro
N 30th St & Fort St. (MAP)
Metro's Fort Omaha campus - Building #10
Omaha, NE 68111
(402) 457-2328

Add it to your calendar:
Foodies of Omaha: January 2008 Meeting - Brunch @ Sage Bistro

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

FOOD @ Dario's Brasserie

posted by snekse
Recently the Foodies of Omaha Discussion Board went to enjoy some fine French/Belgian food at Dario's Brasserie in Dundee. There was no theme this month or voting or discussions even. Instead a member was chosen at "random" and was forced to choose a place. If we decided we didn't like their choice, they would be ostracized until we got our next beer. Luckily for this month's victim, the food was good and the beer was good. The beer may have even stole the show (The St. Bernardus 12 has moved it's way into my top 20 list).

The Good: The service was much better than our previous visit.
The Bad: Nothing honestly. Though that might be the St. Bernardus 12 talking.
The Ugly: The no-shows for our reservation.

[Regarding the no-shows] Unfortunately that kind of thing happens, but it's still really disappointing. I won't really go into it here, but of course Mamma Spice could have none of that and had this to say.

Smack Talk For the No Shows
Well, those of you who were in on the reservation and didn't make it missed out big time. Great food, we were after the rush and got good service. Our waiter knew the beer menu in and out and the food menu. We chatted with THE DARIO of Dario's Brasserie for a bit.

As usual, Derek took some great pics and I'm sure they will be on his blog shortly.

What did you eat by not showing up? Meatloaf? Leftovers? Fast Food? SUCKERS!!!! You could have had the special mussels appetizer with some frites. The mussels were braised in a creamy white wine sauce with fennel and leeks then topped with a light sprinkling of gruyere cheese. The frites were hot and crispy as usual. Or the hangar steak, with a red wine demi-glace. Or the salmon on tomato concasse. All this AND MORE.

I had a beer called Orval, that has been brewed by a group of monks since 1100. Practice makes perfect, and that, peeps, is a LOT of practice.

You tell'em Mama!

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Omakase @ Sushi Japan - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
Well I finally made it to Sushi Japan for Omakase. I've been wanting to blog about Sushi Japan for a while. I'm often asked to recommend a good place for sushi, and without hesitation, this has always been my first answer. It's almost a "Best Kept Secret of Omaha" because most people have either never heard of it, or they have, but for whatever reason, they've never been, or they did go, but didn't partake in sushi because they were lured by the siren song of the Yakiniku grills.

So why do I like Sushi Japan? Simple - they usually have the highest quality fish and their staff is friendly. Sure their prices are reasonable, they're centrally located, and have decent ambiance, but those first two items are what really count. The two may not weigh heavy enough for me to drive 20 minutes when there is another comparable sushi joint within 10 minutes, but if given the equidistant choice, I would pick Sushi Japan before Hiro, Blue or Sakura Bana (formerly Sushi Ichiban) any day of the week. I will make a confession though. If all you're after is basic run-of-the-mill sushi, any of the places just listed will do. It's just fish and rice people; how much can it really differ from place to place? I suspect they source a lot of their products from the same places.

So what makes one sushi place better then the rest? Well, as I already mentioned, consistent quality and a friendly staff, but I found a new aspect to appreciate. The artistry and creativity the sushi chefs (Itamae) can display when given complete control as in the Omakase format. It's hard to come up with a new concept in sushi, but if an Itamae can pull it off, they might just earn your respect and loyalty forever. So using this as the main differentiator between sushi bars, I've decided to set out to find "The Best Omakase in Omaha". With that in mind, this review, and the subsequent reviews, will focus solely on the Omakase experience while sitting at the sushi bar.

A quick preface

The definition of "Omakase"** comes from the verb "makasu" which means to trust, to let someone else take the initiative. In general, "Omakase" expresses the idea of having the courage to place your life in the hands of someone else. Or, in the case of dining...place your dining experience in the hands of the chef.

A true chef's "Omakase" menu should reflect the chef's vision of the following:

Flavor - distinct or combination of sweet, tart, bland, salty, spicy and sour
Color - contrasting and attractive combinations
Texture - distinct or combination of crisp, soft, chewy, and firm
Shapes & Size - mix of flat, round, long, chopped, shredded, heaped, tubular, etc
Temperature - hot, cold, tepid, lukewarm, even icy

After knowing what to expect when ordering Omakase, consider these additional recommendations when planning your visit.

Know when your place of choice receives their fish.
Only go on the day of or after they receive a delivery.
Let them know in advance that you'd like to order Omakase.
This will allow them to make sure they are properly staffed and prepared to give you their best.
Make your reservation several weeks in advance.
This will allow them to special order anything they may want to feature.

Now for the details about Omakase at Sushi Japan. Well, I'm not sure what to say. One of the best sushi meals I've had. What I'm having a hard time coming to terms with is why. The food was really good, but I'm not sure another sushi house couldn't do the same. Zach (the owner and our Itamae for the night) and crew were all nice and chummy. Did I mention the food was really good? But I think what I really enjoyed was that I was forced to try things I may not normally order. For instance, I have a severe aversion to nori, but about half the dishes I ate had nori, and I enjoyed or at least tolerated the nori in most of them. I tried uni again and loved it. I tried mackerel for the first time and loved it. I ate some special maki rolls and at least appreciated them - may have even liked the Super Dragon Roll. This fact that I have now been exposed to a wider variety of menu items may make it difficult for me to evaluate other Omakase menus, but I'll try to keep an unbiased opinion - I promise.

This all leads to an interesting discussion. How much guidance should a dinner be allowed when ordering Omakase? Not having a say in what we ordered had a big impact on my wife's enjoyment of our dinner. She's extremely sensitive to heat created from chilis, wasabi and the like. This was explained to Zach during our second course when she pawned off her spicy tuna tempura onto me because she couldn't handle it. While she did enjoy our meal, she's hesitant about ordering Omakse again for lack of control. It's hard to justify the cost when you sit down and know you're likely going to be given something you really don't like. If anything, this would be my one complaint for the night. Zach was made aware of her sensitivity, but when we were presented with our nigiri plates, her tuna and salmon both had wasabi on them. It's one thing to not bend your preparation for a dish made in advance or in quantity, but on nigiri?

So here are the questions I have: Should you be able to mention dislikes to the chef? How severe do your dislikes have to be? Can you insist on foods that fit your palate? If so, should this fact be mentioned when you first sit down or when you make a reservation? Should you be able to do the opposite and state that you'd really like to have some uni and o-toro? Does it defeat the spirit of Omakase? And what about price? What's reasonable as guidelines to set for this aspect of your tolerances? I'd love to hear your feedback on the issue.

Finally, since I mentioned price, I should talk about our cost for the evening. Happily sedated with fish belly (the term my wife uses for the feeling your belly has after eating copious amounts of sushi - in a purely positive way), amused and entertained for almost 3 hours, the bill with tax was just shy of $50 a person? Rip-off? My initial reaction was one of a bit of shock. I know sushi is expensive, but I wasn't expecting such a large bill. However, sushi is expensive. Sushi in the mid-west is insanely expensive. For example, a two piece order of Maguro Nigiri is about $3.50 on the west coast. Those same two pieces would be closer to $5.50 in the mid-west. If we would have ordered the same menu a la Carte, our bill would have been closer to $100 per person, not per couple. So in hind sight, it was actually a bit of a bargain. And to be completely fair, Zach asked us several times how we were doing and if we were ready to quit. But you know how it is - you want to know what he might bring out next if you stay in the game. Honestly it was completely worth it.

Omakase @ Sushi Japan on Flickr

** Omakase definition adapted from FLO

Rating: 90

Sushi Japan Yakiniku Boy - Make a Reservation
Omaha, NE
(NE Corner of 144th and West Center Road - Behind Old Chicago)

14134 W Center Rd
Omaha, NE 68144
(402) 778-0840

Hours of Operation
Tuesday through Thursday:
  Lunch 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Friday - Saturday:
  Lunch 11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
  Dinner 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Sushi Japan on Urbanspoon

Reviewed during a Foodies of Omaha event.
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Friday, March 31, 2006

F.O.O.D. Meeting - March 2006

posted by snekse
Just a quick report on the March Foodies of Omaha Discussion (F.O.O.D.) Board meeting. The theme for this month was a little difficult to nail down in a short concise sentence. The best I can come up with is "Adult Dining for Kids". Basically, what restaurants do you consider primarily aimed at adults, but are still "kid friendly"? Let me lay some guidelines for what does and does not fit in this category.

First off, the restaurant should be geared towards adults who want to have a nice night out. Things you might expect to see at such a restaurant might include cloth napkins, words on the menu that a non-foodie might not recognize, wines that can only be ordered by the bottle and quite possibly the lack of table tents. Things you're unlikely to see are a drive through, waiters singing or wearing "flair", and oddly enough - a hamburger (at least on the regular menu). Upscale casual is the closest term I can find to represent this class of restaurant.

Second, the restaurant must still be kid friendly. This is a little bit trickier to define within the context of the first guideline. It was interesting to realize what actually made a place kid friendly; I think the term actually gets modified to mean a place that you wouldn't hesitate to bring your kids, versus a place that goes out of their way to be a family friendly environment. So what attributes would you look for in this reclassification?

Though I didn't initially think of it, price is actually very important for this distinction. The French Laundry may make your kid feel like a prince or princess, but do I really want to pay $100+ for them to eat gourmet Mac & Cheese? Granted this is something that will come into play at varying degrees dependant on your child, their tastes, and your bank account, but it's still a factor to consider.

Another interesting aspect to consider was portion size. Tapas bars are surprisingly kid friendly because it's like you have 30+ kid menu dishes to choose from. And if the restaurant actually has a kids menu, all the better. This one actually surprised me a bit. I had associated restaurants with kids' menus as not being adult friendly, but having one doesn't make a restaurant a kid magnet, it just makes it a little easier on the parents.

So those are just some of the things that we considered when making our list of eligible restaurants. With those parameters in mind, this is the list we came up with.

Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill
Kona Grill

The winner of this list was Firebirds.

Firebirds is basically a woodfire grill house which isn't as ubiquitous in Omaha as it is in other regions. The Firebirds spin on the concept is to add Southwestern Rockies flair to their food and surroundings (which somehow they relate to Aspen, CO). I'm not sure how much of that is really achieved through the food, but they do a decent job of it through decor without being a tired theme restaurant. I could delve into details here, but since I said I was going to keep this short, I'm going to jump right into the food.

This was about my third time at Firebirds and with emotional confliction, I can truly say this is one of the better restaurants in Omaha. I have no problem with it being part of a chain, but it pains me that there are so few upscale casual restaurants in Omaha, thus chains will probably be our only choice for some time to come. It also saddens me because if I'm honest with myself, the term "better" should really be "best", at least when comparing local restaurants of the same caliber.

So what makes Firebirds one of the "best" restaurants in Omaha? Well, aside from the fact that I like the atmosphere (which is admittedly a little too dark), I believe they have set the bar for food a notch above what we had previously seen in the area. They have both creative concepts and consistent execution that decidedly puts them in the upper echelons of the Omaha food chain (no chain pun intended). If I had to compare them to other restaurants in the metro, I'd say they are closest to Jams or Upstream. Some example menu items include Espresso Encrusted Sirloin, Pasta with a Chile Asiago Cream Sauce, a side dish of Fried Spinach leaves, and a chocolate cake that was moist and fudgie without being overly sweet. I do, however, have a couple of gripes about their menu.

My biggest complaint is that the menu is just too small. If you take off the appetizers and salads, you're left with about 25 dishes. If you take off all of the stuff that is standard fare that you can get at Outback, you're down to less than 15 dishes. If you want me to be a repeat customer, you need to give me some more options or at least differentiate yourself enough that I'll seek you out for the food I can get nowhere else. And if you're overly sensitive to spicy foods, you can pretty much write-off about a third of their menu which features a lot of southwestern influenced tastes like mango habanero chutney. The only other thing that bothered me was the price of their side salads. Overall their prices were pretty reasonable ranging from $13 to $24 for entrees. Regardless of what they charge for their entrees, I can't understand for the life of me, why they think they can charge $4 for a Ceasar Salad that is small, drowned in store bought dressing, and just unappealing. At least make your own dressing or something...

Well, since I have yet to keep this brief, let me try to get back on track by talking about the main focus on our theme this month - the dining with kids experience. Since I don't have kids, I can't say too much about the kid friendliness, so I'll just touch on some points that I thought were interesting from a bystanders perspective.

First off, I think they need do a little more training with their staff about how to handle tables with kids. We had a party show up a little after we had been seated. None of the kids who arrived in this party received a kids menu. This is like the sin of all sins, to not give a kid something that other kids have. That's just asking for it.

Second, I hate when a restaurant stringently adheres to their "no reservations" policy. If you have a group that's coming in with more than 8 people, they are arriving a little after 5:00, they've made the request 2 weeks ahead of time, they've explained that it's for a Foodie meeting and they've reconfirmed their arrival 2 hours before their requested seating, then for heavens sake, just give them a reservation and set a table aside. Even after doing all of the above, we still had about a 10 minute wait for our table. Not a big deal when you're with a group of adults, but it can be torture on a kid.

As for the kids menu, this was the most impressive kids menu I have ever seen. When was the last time you saw a kids menu with steak on it? All kids menu entrees also came with a choice of two sides and a "sweet treat". The sides included items such as fresh fruit and carrot chips, along with the more standard potatoes, mac-n-cheese or cinnamon apples. If I recall, the dessert item was a small prepackaged pouch of name brand treats - Oreos in this case. I've never seen such a wide selection on a kids menu with actual food that I could see serving my kids at home and maybe even myself. The prices were reasonable with an average price just under $6. The only downside I saw to this menu was the lack of options for portion sizes. If I have a 3 year old, it's doubtful they are going to eat all that food, so it would be nice to be able to save a buck and get just a single side dish.

Man, I've been writing this for so long I don't even remember if there were other things I wanted to discuss, so I guess I'll wrap-up. Overall, I thought it a decent place to bring kids. There are few places in the upscale-casual arena that I would choose above this to bring a child to. Once the California Pizza Kitchen and The Cheesecake Factory open, one could argue that these restaurants also fit into this category, but I think they are a notch below Firebird's in the "upscale" department. I'll admit that it's unlikely most people would bring kids here very often, but it's nice to have the option for when the occasion calls for it.

I should also mention, to end our evening we made a stop at Cafe Gelato for some sweet treats. I can't say that it's the best gelato in Omaha, but it's not too bad and I think it's gotten better since they first opened. They also have expanded their menu to include soup and sandwiches.

For more thoughts on going out to eat with kids in tow, check out this quick summary of 10 useful tips for dining out with children.

Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill
Village Pointe (168th and Dodge)

17415 Chicago St.
Omaha, NE
(402) 359-1340

Hours of Operation
Lunch & Dinner
Sun - Thurs 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Friday & Saturday 11:00 am - 11:00 pm

Cafe Gelato(NOW CLOSED)
Pepperwood Village (156th and Dodge)

(402) 445-4460
597 North 155 plaza
Omaha, NE

Hours of Operation
October - April
Sun - Thurs 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Fri & Sat 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
May - September
Sun - Thurs 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
Fri & Sat 11:00 am - 11:00 pm

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Grand Fortune Chinese Restaurant - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse

F.O.O.D. Meeting - February 2006

The second meeting for Foodies of Omaha took place on Saturday, Feb 18th. Our theme for this month was "Authentic Ethnic Food". We were looking for places that could provide a true recreation of food found in the region the restaurant represents. Admit it, most of the Italian, Chinese and Mexican places your friends and co-workers eat at are not truly ethnic. As a matter of fact, if most people ran into "Authentic" ethnic food, they might never eat that region's cuisine again; at least in the midwest.

So with open minds and empty stomachs, we searched out the places that we knew could provide us food with some combination of organs, "interesting" textures and accents & umlauts. Of the places in Omaha that we identified as having this capability, we came up with the following list.

Ahmad's - Persian (Old Market)
Das Rheinland - German (Old Market)
El Alamo - Mexican (24th & O St.)
Espana - Spanish (60th & Maple)
Grand Fortune - Cantonese (172nd & Center)
Howard's - Mexican (13th & I St.)
Indian Oven - Indian (Old Market)
Katie's - Greek (40th St & Dodge St.)
Le Voltaire - French (156th & Dodge St.)
Mediterranean Bistro - ? (120th & Blondo)

After voting and juggling, Grand Fortune was decided upon as our venue.

Now before anyone starts flaming that this or that place isn't authentic, let me remind you, this was a list of places that we knew had the ability. Yes, Grand Fortune serves Crab Rangoon, which is about the least authentic Chinese food after Fortune Cookies, but if you know the secret password...

At Grand Fortune, the secret password (passphrase really) is "Can I see your other menu?". Do this and you'll be rewarded with a plain white laminated menu with authentic Cantonese style delectables such as steamed fish, scallion chicken, Singapore noodles and several other Chinatown standards. Now, I've never been to China, so I can't vouch for the authenticity, but I can say that all of their dishes match pretty well to what I've grown accustom when eating in Oakland's Chinatown. This might have something to do with the fact that the owner is from Oakland and the chef is from San Francisco. The best part is, if you have a favorite dish that's not on the menu, just ask for it. Chances are, if you can say it, they can make it. Oh, and they have DIM SUM!

So with our secret passphrase, we met with the owner, Tracy, and setup to have a 9 course Chinese style banquet consisting of the following items:

Seafood Tofu Soup
Honey Walnut Shrimp
Chinese Sausage & Gai-lan
Bok Choy with Black Mushroom
Scallion Chicken (half)
Cantonese Style Duck (half)
Spareribs in Imperial Sauce
Sweet Taro & Tapioca Soup

Unfortunately, several of our members were unable to attend, so we had to pare down our menu a bit. The items we did not have were: Chinese Sausage, Scallion Chicken and the Spareribs. Of the items we did have, everything was fantastic. I'm not originally from Oakland and I only lived there for a couple of years, but it felt like being home.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures for you and I'm not going to describe each of the dishes we had because most of them taste exactly like they sound. I will say that the duck we had was better than most I've had in the past and this is the first time I've ever finished a Chinese dessert (though I did donate the taro to my wife).

Speaking of dessert, we might have a tradition starting at our F.O.O.D. meetings. After we finished at Grand Fortune, we made a quick stop down the road to Gelato Jo's. I can't really say if their gelato is better than Whole Foods, but it's definitely in the top 2 of Omaha.

So if you've always wanted to try some "authentic" Chinese food, stop in to Grand Fortune, say "Hi" to Tracy, tell her Foodies of Omaha sent you and muster up your tongue to spit out the words "Gon Chow Ngau Ho" and enjoy your Beef Chow Fun!

Grand Fortune Chinese Cuisine
(402) 697-9888
17330 W Center Rd # 106
Omaha, NE 68130

Gelato Jo's
(402) 398-9866
1223 S 180th St
Omaha, NE 68130

**This has been cross-posted to eGullet.org**
A Foodies of Omaha Report - Feb 2006: Grand Fortune/Gelato Jo's

If you're interested in joining F.O.O.D., you can sign up through our Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FoodiesOfOmaha/

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Friday, January 20, 2006

F.O.O.D. Meeting - January 2006

posted by snekse
The Foodies of Omaha had their first meeting on the 14th. It seemed to go fairly well. I'm not going to detail it here, instead I'm going to simply link to the eGullet discussion.

A Foodies of Omaha Report - TasTe

I'll post a review about our 3+ visits to TasTe sometime in the future. If you haven't been to this restaurant yet, I highly encourage you to check it out.

If you're interested in joining F.O.O.D., you can sign up through our Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FoodiesOfOmaha/

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Foodies of Omaha - Join our Food Group

posted by snekse
Dark foreboding forces have been at work. The culmination of which was resulted in the creation of F.O.O.D.

Otherwise known was the Foodies of Omaha Discussion Board, F.O.O.D. is a covenant gathering of culinary worshipers to deconstruct the various edible spells and potions laid out before us in our domain.

More information to come available as we investigate.

*** UPDATE ***
F.O.O.D. was spotted at TasTe - January 2006
F.O.O.D. was spotted at Grand Fortune - February 2006
F.O.O.D. was spotted at Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill - March 2006
F.O.O.D. was spotted at Sushi Japan Yakiniku Boy - October 2006
F.O.O.D. was spotted at Darwin Bistro & Catering - January 2007

If you're interested in joining F.O.O.D., you can sign up through our Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FoodiesOfOmaha/

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