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
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.
(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)
T-Sa 9 AM – 9 PM
Su-M 9 AM – 4 PM
Ristorante di Palermo is, as one Palermitan Yelp reviewer made clear, not a Palermitan restaurant. It’s not even a Sicilian restaurant, though they have a couple of Greek/Mediterranean dishes which I assume may be found in Sicily. Ristorante di Palermo is your basic Italian restaurant, and as long as you don’t have higher expectations than that, you shouldn’t be terribly disappointed.
We went there for Christmas Eve dinner and we had a rather good meal. It was nothing extraordinary, but it was solidly executed and I would go again.
We started by sharing the “fungi de portabella” ($12), a grilled portobello mushroom cap in a gorgonzola sauce. The only thing I can fault this dish is the price – $12 is too high -, but flavor-wise it was a real winner. The grilled portobello had a meaty, somewhat smoky flavor and it went very well with the sauce. This isn’t a complicated dish, however, and it’s one I’ll try replicating at home.
For our main dishes, I had the chicken marsala ($16), Mike had the salmon special for the night, and the girls had the gnocchi de la casa (in tomato sauce – $12.25) and in gorgonzola sauce ($12.25). Both girls liked their gnocchi, though I didn’t taste them so you may want to take that with a grain of salt. The one in tomato sauce seemed to have plenty of cheese, and I assume the other one shared a sauce with the mushrooms. My chicken marsala had a very nice sauce, it was a little darker than I cook it myself, which I thought was good, and there was some smokiness to it as well. The chicken breast, however, was pretty dry in the manner of chicken breasts everywhere – I wish they would make it with chicken thighs instead. Mike’s dish of salmon with shrimp in some dark sauce was probably the least successful of the evening. He felt the sauce, whose specific flavor he can’t remember, overpowered the seafood. My main complaint about the entrees is that they were in the small size. None of us were left hungry – but I had had an appetizer, the girls don’t eat much (but they cleared their plates) and Mike wasn’t hungry when he started. I think they could increase the portions without hurting their bottom line and make customers’ happier.
For dessert, I got the cannoli ($6?). It was quite good, though nothing out of this world, pretty much your standard cannoli. I’d say the same about the tiramisu ($6) that Mika got. Camila ordered the blood orange sorbet ($5), I didn’t taste it but I suspect it was Ciao Bella. It’s a great sorbet and Camila didn’t complain.
I had two glasses of the sparkling Barbera ($9 each), which was basically sparkling grape juice with a kick. I liked it, but it’s extremely sweet.
Service was very good, our waiter was very attentive. The restaurant is quite nice, but more of a casual place. It’s very roomy, so it’d be a good place to dine when you don’t want to be overheard.
Ristorante di Palermo
22532 Foothill Blvd (b/t A St & B St)
Lunch daily: 11 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Su-Th 5-9 PM, F-Sa 5-10 PM
I walked past Acqua e Farina several times, on my way to and from my favorite tea house, The Golden Tea Garden, before I noticed its existence. From the outside, the restaurant looked simple and inviting, like an old world, hole-in-the-wall sort of place. I put it on the back of my mind as a place to try some day, and from there I retrieved it last April, when I was looking for a place to celebrate my anniversary, with both my husband and children. We had a great experience then, which I repeated last night with a group of friends.
As we discovered once we actually went into Acqua e Farina, this little restaurant occupies the space which was once the home of Rue de Main. The dining room is a little strange, with several smallish eating areas. The largest one is decorated with wall paintings of Italian village storefronts, so you can easily pretend that you are eating al fresco in a piazza. It’s quite nice.
The menu is filled with classic Italian and Italian-American dishes. The pasta ones are nicely priced in the low-to-mid teens with meat and fish dishes in the high teens. A porterhouse steak tops the price list at $30.
We started by sharing the prosciutto ($8) and the polenta ($7). The prosciutto, which came wrapping thick slices of melon, was good, though this is not a favorite dish of mine. The polenta, however, was outstanding. The baked slices are served with mushrooms in a Madeira sauce that is just out of this world. I’d had it in my previous visit, and it was just as good this time. Don’t miss it.
For my main dish, I had the gnocchi della casa ($14), which came with a creamy tomato sauce. The gnocchi just melted in my mouth, and the sauce was quite pleasant. Like most of the entrees at Acqua e Farina, this wouldn’t win any culinary awards, but it was solid. My previous visit I’d had the spinach ravioli in meat sauce ($14), and I had enjoyed them, but not as much as the gnocchi. This time, my friend Katrina had the ravioli but in a pesto sauce, which she enjoyed very much. At a previous visit, one of my daughters had the lasagne di carne ($14.5), which she also liked. Again, no culinary awards, but good, simple Italian food.
Acqua e Farina may do even better with its non-pasta dishes. Eddie found her salmone alla griglia, salmon grilled and served with a garlic, basil and fresh tomato white wine sauce ($19.5) to be the best salmon she’d had in a while. Parker, meanwhile, was very pleased with her melanzane del giorno ($12.5), eggplant in a tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella. She found it a big heavy on the cheese for her taste, but thought it was very good.
The desserts may be Acqua e Farina’s weak point. My ricotta cheesecake ($6) was light but unexciting, and while I didn’t try Eddie’s lemon sorbet ($4), I did notice she only ate half of her dish. I can’t remember what I thought of the tartufo di cioccolato ($5.5), chocolate ice cream with hazelnuts, which I had in my first visit, which means it wasn’t particularly memorable.
Service was outstanding both times. The waiters were attentive and friendly, though this time they failed a bit in the replenishing drinks part. The meal after tax and tip came to about $133.
In all, Acqua e Farina is a solid restaurant for when you want a nice night out at a moderate price.
Acqua e Farina
22622 Main Street
Lunch: M-Sa 11 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Su-Th 4-9 PM, F-Sa 4-10 PM
What is it with LA Thai restaurants? Why is it that seemingly every strip-mall hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant serves spectacular cuisine, while many Thai restaurants in the Bay Area struggle to rise above mediocrity? Whatever it is in the southern California area that inspires Thai cooks, it’s alive and kicking at Jasmine Thai Cuisine. We went there for dinner last Saturday night (June 2014), and had a simply delicious meal.
Jasmine Thai is a 2-restaurant chain in the west San Fernando Valley. We visited the Winnetka branch because it got better slightly better Yelp reviews. The restaurant is cute and well decorated, but it can’t quite escape its strip-mall architecture. Fortunately, the prices match the casual surroundings with most entrees priced at a downright cheap (at least by Bay Area standards) $8.
We started by sharing an order of beef satay ($8). The order came with six sticks, which was great as there were three of us. The beef was very nicely marinated, and had a very strong flavor. The peanut sauce was standard, which is nothing to complain about. The dish was beautifully presented in a plate that came with a small iron heater of some kind with a pretty significant flame. I’m not sure if it was there just for decoration, but we did enjoy putting our meat in the flame. I hadn’t seen this before, and enjoyed it. I know my girls would have loved it.
We followed this with the cashew nut chicken ($8), panang curry with beef ($8) and curry duck ($11). The cashew nut chicken was fine, though perhaps not as interesting as one might have liked. Kathy did like the sauce quite a bit, though. The two curries, however, were outstanding. the panang was perfect, flavorful, deep, complex, and yet very much a panang curry. The sliced beef had probably been sauteed separately and then added to it, so it wasn’t the star of the dish, but it was good enough. It was the sauce, however, what really shined.
The duck curry was similar, albeit a bit fruitier and sweeter, probably from the pineapple chunks it came with. It was also delicious. The duck, a hard meat to get right, was well cooked, not too fatty (but it’s duck), and went very well with the sauce. Both curries are noted in the menu as being spicy. We asked for them as mild as possible, and our tongues still burned a little bit.
The portions were all quite generous. We had leftover of both curries to bring home (which my husband got to enjoy fully). Where they did skimp was in the rice ($1.50 per person). We probably could have used more at the table and had none to take home. Next time, I’ll order an extra portion.
Both my dad and I had strawberry smoothies ($3.25) with our dinner, and they were OK. They basically tasted like strawberry daiquiris without the rum. I don’t think I’d order them again.
Despite how good the food was, there are a few minuses to Jasmine. First, the menu doesn’t include some Thai favorites like pra ram chicken and massaman beef. Second, they don’t serve alcohol – not even beers to wash down the spice. Finally, the service could have been more attentive. We were done for a while before anyone noticed we needed the bill. The dinner for three came to close to $60 after tax and tip.
Jasmine Thai Cuisine
20156 Roscoe Blvd.
M-Su 11am – 10:30pm
Last Spring break I took the girls to the California Academy of Sciences, using a couple of the free tickets the San Leandro library so helpfully provides for its members. I hadn’t been to the Academy in years, since it was at its temporary space in downtown San Francisco. At that time it had a small but actually pretty good cafe. Alas, it’s now become much larger and the quality of food seems to have downgraded.
The Academy Cafe is basically a cafeteria with about four different stations. Make sure you identify on which are the items you want to avoid unnecessary time in line. The prices are high, specially for drinks/deserts, but that’s to be expected.
My youngest daughter had the butter pasta. It was fine. The portion wasn’t too big for $7, but enough for a 9 yo. My oldest daughter had the chicken & chips ($12). She had to wait for the chicken, and then it was very, very dry. I would not recommend this dish. It was a generous portion, however.
I didn’t have lunch myself, but shared a very underwhelming bread pudding ($4, I think) with the girls.
They don’t have regular sodas, the Izze sodas they do have were good, but very expensive.
The Academy also has a full-fledged restaurant, the Moss Cafe. Prices are higher, in the high-teens/low twenties for entrees.
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
My daughters and I have taken the Coast-Starlight train twice in the last couple of months, from Oakland down to LA. Both times we had at least one meal in the dining cart. All in all the experience was pretty positive.
Amtrak requires you to make a reservation for the dining car a few hours before. For this particular trip, it’s soon after you leave from Oakland. An attendant will go by your seat, and you can get both lunch and dinner reservations. If you get into the train later or decide you want to eat in the dining car at the last minute, you can go to the dining car and see if any reservations are available. Chances are they’ll have them. You can also eat in the lounge car, though in our last trip, this one was busier.
Service is very good and friendly. The tables seat four, and while they don’t split parties, they do seat people together. In our first trip, my two daughters and I shared our meals with two different single ladies, who were fortunately both gregarious and interested on the children, so we all had a great time. We got eat alone in our last trip.
The food would not win any culinary awards, but it can be decent if you keep your expectations low. Prices are high, but you’re eating there mostly for the experience.
Both times I had their cheeseburger for lunch ($10, + $2 for bacon). The first time it was pretty decent, not something you’d write home about it, but I’ve gotten worse burgers in my life. The second time it was overcooked and very dry so it was hard to finish. It’s a large burger, however, and neither time I was particularly hungry for dinner later.
My daughters have tried the pizza from the kid’s menu ($7) and enjoyed it. It’s your generic frozen mini pan-pizza, but it’s pretty tasty as far as these go. I had it for my dinner myself on my first trip – when I could not envision eating, or paying for, a whole dinner entree – and it was OK. But then again, I really wasn’t hungry. I don’t think they usually let adults order from the kid’s menu, but by then I’d built a good rapport with the dining room attendant.
One of them also had the mac & cheese ($7) but preferred the pizza.
During our second trip, my daughter had the “marketplace special” ($12.50), which that day was panko-coasted chicken breast and mashed potatoes with some type of sauce. Mika thought it was just OK, but I had her left overs and they were quite tasty. I would order this dish if available in my next trip.
There are many positive things to say about Rubiano’s. It’s located in a neighborhood that has long been desperate for good restaurants – but which seems unable to keep them for long. It’s very child friendly, one our visit there there were a couple of tables with toddlers and a guy with a friendly dog waiting outside. The food and atmosphere are decent. The prices are not outrageous. And it has developed, very quickly, a large base of fans.
However, from the beginning I had heard rumblings about slow service and mediocre food, so I gave it several months to settle down before trying it. When I finally did, last Friday night, my experience was pretty mediocre. There is no compelling reason for going back.
We arrived at the restaurant after 7:30 PM. I had anticipated that we might have to wait to get seated, but fortunately there were spaces at the bar as well as a table for two where we could add an extra chair. The restaurant soon got even more crowded, plus there were people waiting on the sidewalk. The waitresses seemed to be rushing to attend to everyone.
The menu is pretty compact, which makes sense for such a small restaurant. It offers a few deep-fried starters ($6-10), a couple of salads ($5-8), simple pastas ($8-10) with your choice of marinara, alfredo or pesto sauce, stromboli sandwiches ($9) and, the piece of resistance, pizzas and calzones. These start at $11 and $14 respectively for a small cheese, with extra toppings $1.80 to $2.40 each. The prices are not low, but they’re in line with other local restaurants.
My daughter decided on the cheese tortellini with marinara sauce from the kid’s menu ($7), which included a drink and a scoop of ice cream. Mike went for the meat’s lover small pizza ($19) and I ordered the meatball stromboli ($9). What we got, however, was different.
It took me a while to conclude that there were no meatballs in my stromboli. I had been surprised to not find them in the first few bites, but I figured they might have ended up at the ends. No such luck. The stromboli I got had cheese and tomatoes/tomato sauce, and some long, thin strips of something which I assume were artichokes. There were no meatballs and no olives (as advertised for the artichoke heart stromboli) though there was some basil. It tasted fine, though it was a bit too doughy for the amount of filling and the different ingredients weren’t completely harmonized. The basil was a tad too bitter, and yet it’s what gave the dish its fresh flavor. I decided not to send it back because I figured that it would take another fifteen minutes to get the right stromboli, and I was pretty hungry. Even without the meatballs this was a pretty messy dish, you need a fork and knife to eat it discretely.
The stromboli came with a side salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, green peppers and croutons with your choice of dressing. I was pretty good.
My daughter’s troubles with her food actually started earlier. She had ordered a raspberry iced tea, but what she got was a plain, unsweetened ice tea. It turns out that they don’t actually carry the raspberry tea advertised on the menu. The waitress happily substituted it for a diet-pepsi. She did get her order of tortellini right, though instead of bringing her a kid’s size portion as she had ordered and billing accordingly, she brought a regular portion. Thus a $7 meal, which included a drink and dessert, became an $12 one. She didn’t charge us for the ice-cream, however. Not a big deal, but yet another mistake that shouldn’t have happened.
Mika liked the tortellini, she thought the marinara sauce was fine though she left most of it on the plate. The adult-size serving was fine for an adult-size appetite, but not particularly generous. She didn’t have leftovers to bring home.
Mika and I were almost done eating our meals by the time Mike got his pizza. The meats had a very nice smokey flavor, though the saltiness in them pretty much overwhelmed the rest of the pizza. This, of course, is a problem for meat-heavy pizzas, which is why I personally don’t order them. He liked it well enough. I thought the dough was pretty nice, a bit tough and a bit chewy but with a good flavor. I prefer thick-crust pizzas, however. I couldn’t taste much of the cheese and sauce because of the flavor of the meats. The pizza didn’t keep that well, however. By the next day the smokiness on the meats had become much weaker and, eaten cold, it wasn’t particularly compelling.
Service was rushed but friendly. There were obviously two pretty major mistakes. The fault on the stromboli lies with the kitchen, it appeared correctly on the bill. The other mistake was the waitress’, but I can’t really blame her because the place was very loud and she seemed so rushed. We paid the bill – after all, she had consumed the food and we were ready to go-, but I would be careful of examining it and the order carefully if we returned.
As a final note, before writing this review I included a brief summary of the experience on my San Leandro Talk Facebook page. One of the cooks from Rubiano’s chimed in to say that I should have either spoken up then – though he did recognize it would have taken at least 10-15 minutes for me to get the right stromboli if I had done so – and should “shut up” now. He also made some comment about how I am not a San Leandro native. That type of anti-customer attitude makes me doubly-reluctant to return to the restaurant.
600 Dutton Ave, Unit C
San Leandro, CA
M-Su 11 AM – 10 PM
Mike and I were in Los Angeles for the Democratic Convention last March, and decided to give Mo-Chica a try for lunch. We both like Peruvian food and were excited to see what this restaurant could do. With the right expectations, I think Mo-Chica would have been a great experience. Alas, our expectations were to quench our hunger without having to mortgage our home, and that is not quite possible here. Still, the food was very nicely presented and interesting and I appreciated the experience.
Mike and I started with the tiradito de seabass. The thin slices of cold seabass (maybe 8 or so) came beautifully presented in a long plate decorated with the aji amarillo sauce. You would never have guessed from the delicate look of the dish just how bursting in flavor it’d be. It did get boring after a while, so this is definitely a dish to share. And it’s all about the flavor, there is almost no substance to the dish.
As our main dishes, we ordered the carapulcra (“Peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, peanuts, chimichurri”, $14) and the Estofado de alpaca (“Braised alpaca, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic egg”, $15). I’d had llama in Argentina, but I figured alpaca wasn’t exactly the same, so I might as well add it to my list of meats I’ve tried. I can do that now, but as the alpaca meat was cut into extremely small pieces, and its flavor was covered by the rest of the stew, I can’t quite say I know what it tastes like. I can imagine, that’s probably the point. There must be a reason why llamas and alpacas are pretty much only served in restaurants catering to tourists in their home regions.
In any case, both dishes were very good, they had distinct and pleasant flavors and I enjoyed them. Neither, however, was a show stopper. The presentation and novelty, rather than the taste, is what justified their absurd prices for lunch. They also weren’t particularly generous portions. Mike, in particular, who had been less enthusiastic about the food and had let me had the lion’s share, left hungry.
The restaurant itself looks too casual to justify its prices. It’s more of a hipster place, and I would perhaps not have minded it so much for dinner, where a larger meal at a larger expense might seem justified.
Needless to say I won’t be going back, but I’m glad I tried it.
514 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA