The Cookie Jar Restaurant, Fairbanks, AK – Review

We visited Fairbanks in March 2015 to see the northern lights and one of our days there we had a late lunch at the Cookie Jar.  It was all in all a good experience and I’d go back if I was to visit Fairbanks again.

The Cookie Jar is a large coffeeshop style restaurant serving typical American food.  The prices are reasonable for Fairbanks, though high for the continental US (that’s the case with most restaurants in Fairbanks).  The decor is coffeeshop cute and the restaurant is divided into several dining rooms, so noise levels are quite manageable.  Even though we were there for a late lunch, the place was pretty busy and there were quite a few families.

My vegetarian 12-yo had the Becca burger ($12), a black bean burger with cheddar cheese and guacamole.  She thought it was very good.

My 10-yo was less pleased with her kid’s spaghetti ($8).  She just didn’t like the sauce.  I’m not sure why, as it was a generic tomato-based pasta sauce. She loved the garlic bread, however.

I had the Monte Cristo sandwich ($11): “two thick slices of bread dipped in egg batter then grilled with ham, turkey, Swiss, and cheddar cheese” and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  It took a while to come to the table and when it did, it was missing the filling: they were just french toast slices.  The waitress was very apologetic and brought me a substitute as soon as she could – I thought it was pretty funny.  By the time I got it, however, I had filled up on my daughters’ fries, garlic bread and spaghetti, but I thought the sandwich was quite good.  Fortunately our hotel had a fridge so I was able to enjoy the rest of it later.

Service was great, our waitress was both friendly and solicitous.  All in all, a good experience.

The Cookie Jar Restaurant
1006 Cadillac Ct
Fairbanks, AK
907-479-8319
http://cookiejarfairbanks.com/


Joan’s Bakery Cafe

Joan’s Bakery Cafe has been opened for just a few months and is already in its last legs.  It’s clear from the offerings that its owners don’t have the capital to keep it running. My bet is that it will close soon, very soon.

The space that Joan’s occupies has been having troubles for years.  It seemed fairly successful when it operated as Planet Coffee under its original owners, but a series of new owners and new names were unable to make it succeed.  I’m not exactly sure as to why, as before this latest incarnation as Joan’s Bakery, the offerings were both good and well priced.

Joan’s Bakery Cafe, however, is a mess.  First of all, it’s not a bakery.  I don’t know if it ever was, but right now all they sell are pre-packaged, dried Chinese baked items from a bakery in Oakland and old and stale bagels and doughnuts, I recognized as sold at Grocery Outlet.  They do have cafe offerings, though I cannot comment as I didn’t try any.  Though I did order a large glass of orange juice, thinking it’d be freshly squeezed (it should have been, for the $4.50 price), but it was not.

The place was empty, both of customer and of stock, and it seemed to me like the owners had run out of money and couldn’t keep with the expenses of daily operations.  Indeed, it turns out that the space is up for lease.

The food itself wasn’t bad, though grossly overpriced.  I had the lamb shawerma ($8).  The tiny sandwich came with lamb, thick slices of cucumber, tomato and sauce.  The lamb was nicely spiced, it definitely had some curry powder, but not an overwhelming amount.  However, there were no sides (not even chips) and I was nowhere close to full after eating it (the doughnut I bought for dessert must have been a week old).

Mike had the rib-eye blue cheese sandwich ($8) and it was also minute but very tasty.

The whole cafe is in charge of a young girl with limited command of English. She has to attend to customers, answer the phone and prepare and serve the food.  That means limited service even if you’re the only ones eating there.

In all, I’m sad this cafe was such a bust – but I look forward to the space being occupied by a good restaurant one day.

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Restaurant Review: Grotto at the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

We stayed at the Golden Nugget our last night in Vegas in August 2014, and we were too tired to leave the hotel to go have dinner.  Of the several restaurants at the hotel, Grotto seemed to be the best choice in terms of cost and reviews.  Indeed, we had a fairly good meal. It’s overpriced, but it could have been worse.

Grotto is divided into two sections.  The main section occupies a large, semi-open space near the front desk.  The second section is across the pathway that leads to the casino, by the pool and has views of the pool area.  We ate in the main dining room, which is kept somewhat dark. It’s nice, but too open to pool-attired passerbys to feel anything other than casual.

I had the chicken marsala ($20), which comes with fettuccine alfredo.  I enjoyed this dish very much, I hadn’t had that combination before but it worked very well.

One of the kids had the Margherita pizza, which I also remember enjoying.  I don’t remember what Mike and the other kid had.

Service, I recall, was fine.

Grotto
Golden Nugget
129 Fremont Street Experience
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 386-8341
http://www.goldennugget.com/LasVegas/eat_grotto.asp

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Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

Lotus of Siam is described as being the best Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, if not the country – so, of course, we had to try it.  After a failed attempt in 2012, we finally managed to get in in 2013.  It was very good, but not extraordinary.  Then again, Thai food is so good in general, that finding extraordinary Thai food seems like a Herculean task.

Lotus of Siam has a huge menu, offering both traditional Thai foods, Issam and northern specialties.  With so much choice, it’s easy to get lost so I asked for my waiters’ recommendation and ended up getting the duck on drunken noodle ($26).  That was a mistake.  The duck was OK, but the noodles lacked flavor.  I liked them, but I didn’t love them.  I would have been better off going with one of my favorites.

One of the kids had the chow mein ($9).  This was a lovely dish.  It tasted like a combination of Chinese and Thai flavors, which were perfectly melded.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a large portion.

My other daughter had the Pad Thai and this was phenomenal. The noodles had a welcomed smokeyness I’d never experienced before.  Unfortunately, the portion was not large enough for me to get more than a taste.

Mike had one of the special panangs. I don’t remember what meat he had, but the sauce was described as a panang with cognac.  It was good, but it didn’t taste any different from a regular panang sauce.  Still, he was happy with the dish, if not the price.

The place was very crowded, it took a long time to get seated and service was competent but busy.  In all, I think it’s a restaurant worth trying, but which cannot possibly live up to its hype.

Lotus of Siam
53 East Sahara Avenue Suite A5
Las Vegas, NV
Phone:(702) 735-3033
http://www.saipinchutima.com/

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Capo’s Restaurant & Speakeasy – Las Vegas

It’s definitely not fair to review a restaurant a year and a half after you had dinner there, when your memory of the experience is dimmer than the lights at dinner, but I’m creating a travel page on Las Vegas, and I want to include Capo’s.  Though the restaurant is definitely overpriced, it offers such a cool Las Vegas experience, that I can fully recommend it.

Capo’s is a prohibition era Mafia theme restaurant. It plays the part of a speakeasy, and the coolness starts from the moment you make your way inside. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it works best if you get yourself in the mood: it’s prohibition era and you are trying to gain admission to a speakeasy, where they may be a bit weary of you.

The restaurant itself is both sumptuous and very dark – it plays very well with the Mafia scene and it’s easy to believe you are in another era.  The food, as I remembered it, was good, though not outstanding.  I remember service being very, very slow – which I didn’t mind as much, because I loved the atmosphere, but it can be hard with hungry kids.  They have live music later in the evening, and I wished I’d been there for more than a song or two – but my kids were tired.

As I mentioned, prices are high but they have groupons and other discounts, worth hunting for (e.g. they currently have a Travelzoo deal of lunch for 2 for $19).

Capo’s Restaurant & Speakeasy
5675 W Sahara Ave.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 436-2276
http://www.caposrestaurant.com/

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Review: The Cheesecake Factory at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now. 

You can get great food on the Las Vegas strip, and you can get cheap food at the myriad of food courts, but finding tasty, affordable food is very hard.  That’s probably why the Cheesecake Factory has actually become one of our favorite places to eat in Las Vegas.  The food is tasty, the portions are generous and the prices are reasonable.  Plus they have cheesecake! We now make it a point of shopping at the forum shops, watching the Fall of Atlantis show and then having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory every year.

I’ve been quite happy with pretty much everything I’ve eaten there.  Last visit I had their Pasta Da Vinci ($17), penne in a Madeira sauce with chicken, mushrooms and onions.  It was as good as it sounds.  Another year I had their spaghetti & meatballs ($15) and it was as good as you can expect.  They no longer seem to carry the Monterey burger ($12) I had another year. It came with cheese, onions, arugula and avocado. It was cooked to order medium rare, but it was drier than I would have liked it.  Still, the accompanying sweet potato fries were phenomenal.

The Cheesecake Factory has a well-priced children’s menu. Last time, my youngest daughter enjoyed the pasta with marinara sauce.  In a previous visit, my oldest had the pasta alfredo ($7) but was disappointed by the lack of flavor.  My youngest had the kids cheese pizza ($6), which was the size of a regular dinner plate – basically, adult size. The pizza tasted like an Italian pizza margherita rather than your typical American cheese pizza, so she didn’t like it. I, however, did.

Portions at the Cheesecake Factory are usually large, so we get to enjoy leftovers when we stay at hotels with kitchenettes.

Of course, one of the main reasons to go to the Cheesecake Factory is the cheesecake.  Slices are large enough to share and $8-$9.   I prefer the plain cheesecake, but the Dulde de Leche cheesecake we had once was pretty good.  The Adam’s Peanut Butter fudge cheesecake, however, was too sweet.  My youngest had the kids hot fudge sundae once ($2!). It was a large enough portion that she couldn’t finish it.

There is usually a long wait when we go to have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, but you can pass the time shopping or watching the show.  Service has been mixed.  The first time we went, we barely saw our waiter.  The second, service was great, even though we were in the second floor.

The Cheesecake Factory
Caesars Palace Forum Shops
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV
702-792-6888
http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/

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Review: Magnolia’s Veranda at the Four Queens Hotel & Casino

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012.

We stopped for dinner at Magnolia’s Veranda after checking out the Fremont Street Experience and we were pretty happy with the food. Both of my girls ordered pancakes for dinner and they were pretty good, in particular the blueberry pancakes. They are huge, the size of a regular dinner plate, so of course none of them could finish their portion (I had anticipated this, so I dined on their leftovers).

My husband had the ribeye dinner ($14, I think) and he enjoyed the soup (a liquidy jambalaya) that came with it. The ribeye wasn’t as thick I’d like it, but it was perfectly cooked medium rare and it had a great flavor. The mashed potatoes were also good. Service was very friendly and efficient.

In all, it was a great dining experience – made better by the fact that we got a coupon for $10 of bonus play when signing up for a players’ card and we won $24 on the poker machines – which paid for most of the dinner.

The only minus was the fact that the restaurant is open to the casino floor below and therefore the smoke flows right in. Still, I’d go again. Make sure to get a players’ card first, as there are many specials for cardholders.

Magnolia’s Veranda
Four Queens Hotel & Casino
202 Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 385-4011

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Review: Garden Court Buffet at the Main Street Station casino, Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012.

If you are looking for a cheap buffet and/or want an introduction to classic American home cooking, then the Garden Court Buffet at the Main Street Station casino is for you.  The buffet is only $11 for dinner ($10 if you join their player’s club) and offers a whole array of American classics, from fried chicken to roast beef and manicotti, to pork shoulder and make-your-own-tacos.  There are also pasta salads, mashed and baked potatoes, green beans, steamed carrots, etc.  The only thing really missing are ribs.  The casino seems attract Filipino/Hawaiians, so there were a few Chinese/Filipino/Hawaiian offerings as well.

We weren’t too hungry so we didn’t taste that many dishes, but the manapua (Hawaiian steamed pork buns) were the best I’ve tasted.  The pork had the perfect combination of acid and sweetness and they kept very well in the steam table.  I wholeheartedly recommend this.  The other winner are the mashed potatoes.  They are perfectly seasoned and taste just of what they are.  The kalua pork was also pretty good, but as the main flavor in this dish is liquid smoke, it’s hard to get it wrong.

Other dishes weren’t as great.  My daughters enjoyed the “make your own tacos” station and I liked the tortilla chips, but the guacamole needed more avocado.  The fried chicken was crispy, but it tasted like the microwavable kind.  The lumpia and chow mein both needed more seasoning.  My husband liked the pasta salad (or was it potato salad?), but it wasn’t cold enough.

The biggest loser of the day was the mac & cheese  I didn’t taste it, but my daughter could barely stomach one bite – and this is not a picky child.  The other loser was the melon, which was unripe and not sweet.

Desserts were the best part.  Their banana cream pie was particularly tasty, but their key lime pie wasn’t bad – though too sour.  The cheesecake was great, if a bit sweet.  Everyone’s favorite, of course, was the soft-serve station.  There are many other choices, however: from pies to pastries to puddings.

Service was great, our waiter refilled our glasses often.

In all, it was a very pleasant experience.

Garden Court Buffet
Main Street Station Casino
200 N Main St
Las Vegas, NV
website

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Restaurant Review: Carnival World Buffet at Rio Hotel in Las Vegas

I am putting together a Las Vegas with Kids webpage, containing all my reviews for Las Vegas.  Some of those reviews never made it to my blog, so I’m adding them now.  This one is rather old, from July 2012, but as I’m not planning to return to the Carnival buffet, it will have to do.

We were not impressed with the Carnival World dinner buffet at the Rio.  The buffet offered tons of choices, I don’t think we tried even a fourth of what was available, but none were dishes worth going for a second helping.  The only exception to that was the steak with mushroom sauce.  It was thin, but tender and had a great beef flavor.

My daughters were not impressed with any of the child friendly items and ended up eating a lot of shrimp.  Hey, they have protein, but not worth the price of admission.  The crab legs, which they’ve enjoyed in the past, were very small and not worth the trouble of eating.

I can’t quite remember what I tried (which tells you something).  I know the prime rib was OK while the chicken parmigiana tasted like chicken nuggets (yuck!).  The pork ribs were tough, the beef ribs were better and had a nice BBQ sauce.    I can’t remember anything else.

The desserts we tried, OTOH, were uniformly good.  The kids loved the gelato, and I enjoyed the cheesecake and flan (though dig in for the caramel as otherwise it’s not sweet enough).  The one disappointment were the eclairs, as tends to be the case in most buffets.

In all, I wouldn’t go back to this buffet.  In particular given the wait – 45 minutes on a Tuesday night in July.   People who are paying full price (not using coupons or the Buffet of Buffets deal) do get in much faster as they have an express line for them.


Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe – Fremont – Review

(I started writing this review back in August, 2014, when I visited the restaurant).

It’s hard to believe that this cute, little cafe is located in a strip mall near office parks in Fremont.  You definitely forget about that once you are inside, relaxing in the air conditioning on your stylish banquette.  I went there with my daughter after a visit to Kaiser, across the street, and had a wonderful time.

While Petit Cafe serves sandwiches, the focus of their menu is on crepes and they have a wider variety of them than I have seen anywhere else.  Mika and I decided to split both a savory and a dessert one, a combination I’d suggest for anyone dining with a partner.  The only problem is that we got the dessert crepe before the savory one – and we had to wait for a long time for both.  Don’t come here if you’re already starving.

We had the mozarella, mushroom and avocado crepe, which comes with a side (we chose pasta) and drizzled pesto sauce.  It was excellent.  I had been doubtful about whether mushrooms and avocado would work together, but they did wonderfully – though it was the magnificent pesto sauce which really brought them together.  Mika loved it as well.

We had the La La Lo Lo crepe for dessert. These are actually several mini-crepes, stack together and filled with strawberries, bananas and chocolate sauce, and served with a side of vanilla ice cream.  It was also divine. The chocolate was real chocolate, not nutella (which, in the US, is mostly palm oil) and the flavors combined beautifully.

Most crepes, both sweet and savory, are $8.

We also split a strawberry blitz smoothy ($4.50, I believe), which we both liked.

Service was good, though as I mentioned, slow, though I won’t fault the kitchen for not making the crepes in advance and then reheating them.   In all, I’m looking forward to going bakc to Kaiser just to have an excuse to go back.

Frodo Joe’s Petit Cafe
39286 Paseo Padre Pkwy (b/t Capitol Ave & Walnut Ave)
Fremont, CA
(510) 790-0999
T-Sa 9 AM – 9 PM
Su-M 9 AM – 4 PM

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