Monday, August 25, 2008

China Spring Road

Last month, business took me on a drive to a part of our community that I do not regularly visit. 19th St. becomes FM 1637 as you travel northwest to China Spring. The development along this corridor is proceeding at a fairly fast pace. With the growth, comes new restaurants to explore!

An old Hewitt favorite of mine, Trevino's, has resurfaced in this area after a brief stopover on Valley Mills. Zeb's Backyard Grill has been featured on a local PBS show because of its hamburgers. Another branch of the successful La Fiesta family has sprouted in this area as well.

With all these choices, it was difficult to make a decision where to eat first. I chose the Italian Garden at 10207 China Spring Rd. Owned by Nicki and Sophia Colaku, the restaurant has survived the most critical period for most places and is approaching its second birthday.

Because of its strip shopping center location, the restaurant has very little drive by appeal. Once you have parked I can't really say that a closer look will fill you with any apprehension of Great Food Inside. Upon entering you will find a more pleasant and comfortable atmosphere. You won't think you are in Naples but enough interior design is in place to make you feel like you are in an Italian setting.

Even this modest decor would be wasted if the food was poor. It is not. In fact, it has enough flavor and creativity to make it worth the short drive. My Italian sausage and peppers served over pasta had good flavor and was loaded with meat. Our young and inexperienced waiter suggested Joe’s Garden Special. Lot's of chicken breast sautéed with spinach and fresh tomatoes in a creamy pink sauce. A solid choice. The special of the day was a broccoli and fettuccine in an Alfredo sauce - again a large and tasty entree.

The house salad dressing was described as a tomato vinegarette. It came thickly applied and seemed to overwhelm the lettuce. My blue cheese was just fine. The pizza seemed quite popular at other tables and looked like something you might want to order.

Our server acted as though it was his first day on the job. He repeatedly interrupted our conversation to ask if we needed anything or if all was OK. A less intrusive observational approach would have been appreciative. Still, he tried very hard.

The portion sizes were all very good and I felt they offered good value. Most of the dinners are priced between $10 and $15. This price includes a dinner salad (iceberg average) and some delicious house made dinner rolls (very good). The lunch specials are also a bargain.

How would I rank Italian Garden? If you are tired of chain restaurant Italian, then Italian Garden should grant you some welcome relief. The main dishes show some flair and provide something a bit different. I think it is on a par with Gratziano's and Rossati's. I would rank it ahead of all the Barris incarnations. It is worth the drive.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cheeves Steakout

A visit to the remarkable Cheeves Bros. Steak House in Temple, Texas was a very nice surprise. Our group agreed that the beef was very good, the atmosphere was very very good, and the service was good. The rest of this blog may seem to nit-pick some of the flaws of the place so I guess I should say up front that it was a very pleasant dining experience - probably as good or better than anything Waco has to offer. Certainly top tier for central Texas.

If I were comparing Cheeves Bros. to others that I have visited nationally or to those just up the road in Dallas, I would probably rank it in the upper half of the class. While it is not as good as a Pappas Brothers or a Del Frisco, it can be favorably compared to a Ruth's Chris or a Smith and Wollensky.

My rib-eye steak was perfectly prepared and nicely presented with a delicious blue cheese wedge salad. Others chose the lobster bisque and were disappointed that it was served tepid and a bit on the salty side. The requested reheat helped but the soup was just not up to the rest of the meal.

Cheeves offers a sizeable number of steak cuts prepared several different ways. Merlot, Hollandaise, Bearnaise, and Peppercorn sauces are available as additions. Blue cheese and wild mushrooms are also listed as toppings on some of the beef. Most of these cuts are priced at $40+. Prime Rib is also a menu option. Duck and wild salmon are interesting non-beef choices on the menu. A special section of the menu lists several prime rated steak cuts.

It has been several years since I have had a Ros-O-Baked Potato. The old Bavarian Steak House in Dallas served these. Don't ask me exactly how they are prepared - there is paper wrapping and rosin involved I think. They are a fancy take on a traditional baked potato and here a sweet potato as well. . Good if you like to munch on the potato skin.

The Internet says it is a method of preparing a potato by wrapping the potato in a wrapper formed from a rosin impregnated piece of cellulose that has perforations to allow steam to vent as the potato is baked.

The Wine List is recognized by Wine Spectator but that is not exactly as great as it sounds. The list is adequate but like most steak houses very over priced. I saw several examples of wines that were being offered a double and triple the retail price. Wines that should have been reasonable and could have been excellent compliments to the meal were priced well beyond what they should have been. Unusual in Dallas? No - but certainly not the norm in central Texas. Order by the glass or stay to the low end of the price scale to minimize the damage.

Desserts are good to very good and are large enough to split. At $8 to $10, they were at least affordable. To there credit, Cheeves has a nice children' s menu that offers some good choices for less than $10.

The service is probably the most noticeable difference. It is competent and central Texas homey. Our server was nice, attentive, and knowledgeable of the menu's basics. But the level of service did not rise to the level of professionalism that you would experience at III Forks or at Morton's. This might not be a bad thing to some people but when the bill approaches $300 for a party of four, you should receive exceptional service for the 20% gratuity expected at this type of establishment.

Cheeves Bros. in a very good special occasion experience for people who want quality steaks without going to Dallas, Houston, or Austin for the event. Cheeves Bros. delivers on many levels and falls just short of elite dining in a couple of critical areas.