Monday, September 21, 2009

Review: The Yarde House

The Yarde House, or what was formerly known to South Hadley residents as "Woodbridges" is one of the best new places to eat in town. Located at 3 Hadley St., South Hadley Mass., The Yarde House offers highly improved and revamped menus, atmosphere and decor. With offerings from all different types of cuisines, the Yarde House is a great place to eat at any time of the year. The warm, dim-lit interior is nice for a cool fall or winter day and during those warm summer nights you can enjoy your meal and a glass of wine at one of their outdoor tables on the patio which has a border of lamps around its fence, creating a great ambiance.

For a starter, try the crispy calamari ($8.99). It's served up in a creative way, the classic marinara nowhere to be seen (although I'm sure they'd bring you some if you asked for it). Tossed with olive oil, garlic, cherry peppers, capers, scallions, and shaved Parmesan cheese, it has a slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavor, and the breading is just right...not too thick and not too greasy. For a twist on an old classic, try the southwest chicken spring rolls ($8.99). They're wonton wrappers filled with spiced chicken, black beans, cheddar cheese, spinach and red pepper and they're lightly fried and served with a creamy avocado dipping sauce. The spring rolls do have a kick, but the avocado sauce smooths everything out and together, they're a great pair.

For sandwiches, my favorite is a toss-up between the chicken panini and the roasted portabella sandwich ($8.99 each). The panini comes on a nice, soft ciabatta, like any good panini should. They spread it with a sundried tomato pesto and fill it with a roasted chicken breast topped with basil, fresh mozzarella and roasted tomato. It's a vamped-up version of an Italian classic and the flavors go really well together. The portabella is great because it eats like a burger but without all the fat and, oh yeah, the meat. They take a huge portabello mushroom, marinate it in balsamic, top it with fresh mozzarella, roasted tomatoes and mesclun mix, and put it on a crunchy (but not too crunchy) rustic roll (because we all know there's nothing worse than biting into a sandwich and cutting up the entire roof of your mouth). The mushroom is tender and juicy and the flavors of the toppings really go well with it. Your choice of Saloon Slaw or french fries (or sweet potato fries for 99 cents extra) completes both sandwiches for a pretty fair price.

If you're interested in something a little bit more dinner entree and less lunch, you have to try their mac-n-cheese ($13.99). It's farfalle pasta tossed in a chipotle and cheddar B├ęchamel sauce with chopped bacon and diced tomato. The chipotle and the bacon give the dish a slightly smoky flavor and the tomatoes add a nice touch of sweetness that really enhances the savory quality of the dish. Don't bother with the vegetable pasta though ($11.99). The veggies are bland and the "light" tomato sauce is basically just diced tomatoes and very little seasoning.

The Yarde House is a great place to go if you're looking for great variety at reasonable prices. Since the restaurant makeover, it has become one of my favorite spots in South Hadley, and I know many locals who agree.

*All of The Yarde House's menus are available at the link above.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review: Bobby's Burger Palace

Bobby Flay has opened up his first of two restaurants inside the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT, Bobby’s Burger Palace, and although the setup is a bit unconventional, the food is well worth a visit. In July, I had tickets to see comedian Lewis Black at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Being the foodie that I am, I decided that it wouldn’t be a complete trip without a visit to one of the casino’s many restaurants. So, I did my research. I knew that Flay was scheduled to open two restaurants sometime this year, but I wasn’t sure when. To my surprise, he had just opened Bobby’s Burger Palace about two weeks before that, so I was very excited to try it out. I read some not-so-good reviews online, which explained a “cafeteria-style” ordering and dining experience and also made me a bit skeptical, but I was willing to give Bobby the benefit of the doubt on this one. I mean come on, it is Bobby Flay after all, an award-winning Food Network star and Iron Chef. I checked out the menu online and was very excited to see that nothing on it was over $9. The Napa Valley Burger caught my eye immediately; two words: goat cheese. It was at that moment that I realized I’d have to give it a try.

We got to the casino early enough to eat and waited in a line that looked long, but moved quickly. After about five minutes in line, we ordered. You have two options for any burger on the menu. Option one (the option that Bobby recommends to every customer and the option that my boyfriend was very excited for) is to “crunchify” your burger. Code for topping your burger with potato chips before the bun top goes on. Option two and the option that I opted for was to have your burger topless. Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, I did not take off my shirt in front of hundreds of people just so I could enjoy this burger! When you order a burger topless, they kick the bun and serve it atop a bed of fresh, crisp mesclun greens. No wilted lettuce here. You can also get any burger made with ground beef, ground turkey, or a whole chicken breast. So I got the Napa Valley, in turkey and topless, and my boyfriend got the monthly special, in beef and crunchified. We paid for our order, were seated in a few minutes at the end of a long table that was lined with people, and our food was out in about 15 minutes.

Despite the initial awkwardness of sharing a table with others, the layout wasn’t that bad. The tables are set up so you’re looking in towards the line in the kitchen, where people are bustling and working hard to get your food out. Customers are only seated on one side of the tables, so even though you might be sitting next to someone you’ve never met before, it’s not like they’ve got you sitting across the table from complete strangers like it’s a Thanksgiving family reunion. Each table has a basket with plastic squeeze bottles that hold four of Bobby’s famous sauces and one with just plain old ketchup. There’s a chipotle ketchup, which is sweet with a lingering smoky heat that you feel on the back of your palate. There’s a burger sauce that tastes like a combination of steak sauce with a hint of sweetness, probably from honey which is one of Bobby’s favorite ingredients. There’s also a jalapeno hot sauce which is a bit too spicy for me and a barbeque sauce which is sweet and smoky with just the right amount of heat. Although I did sample all of the sauces, I didn’t do anything else with them. I really wanted to taste my burger the way that Bobby intended it to be.

The Napa Valley, shown above, is a juicy and very flavorful turkey burger topped with a generous amount of creamy goat cheese, spicy watercress, and a Meyer lemon honey mustard. The goat cheese was melted just enough to bring out its silkiness, but not too much to make it grainy or burnt and the tanginess from the Meyer lemon along with the sweetness from the honey and the spice from the watercress all paired perfectly. Instead of the bun shown in the picture above, the "topless" greens it was served on were fresh and the balsamic vinaigrette that came on the side was the perfect finish. It was a great way to go healthy at a place that’s known for its burgers…not always the most figure-friendly food.

The burger that my boyfriend got was made of ground beef and topped with tomato, fresh mozzarella, and a basil pesto spread. He crunchified it, which was a little disappointing, because they were Lays chips, not the super crunchy, homemade kettle-cooked chips that I’d expected, but other than that, the burger was juicy and boasted the flavors of Italy with every bite. The bun was soft, and the perfect size to go with the stacked burger. Overall, we were extremely pleased with our burgers. So pleased in fact, that we did something later that night that we’d rather not mention…but for the sake of this review, I will.

Normally, our visit to any restaurant would end here. Maybe we’d order a desert, but after that it’d be check please and out the door. So, we got the check, paid, and went to see the show. But after the long comedy performance and a lot of laughing (and calorie burning) on our part, we decided that there was only one option. We went back to the palace. This time, we decided to mix things up a bit. We had already tried the famous burgers, but we opted out of the sides during the first round. So, we got a Griddled Cheese Deluxe with brie, bacon, and tomato, as well as an order of fries and onion rings. To wash it all down we got a dark chocolate milkshake with whipped cream. This round was much less healthy than what we’d ordered before, but it was still very good.

The sandwich was a nice twist on an old classic, but they forgot to put the tomato on which would have added a necessary sweetness to balance out the saltiness of the bacon, the brie and the Texas toast-like bread it came on. It was still good, but it definitely could have used all of the ingredients that it claimed to have. The fries and onion rings were good, but there wasn’t anything that made them really stand out. The fries also came with fry sauce which was creamy and a little bit smoky like chipotle or paprika and paired well with the onion rings too. The milkshake was the best thing that we got the second time around. It was thick, and very chocolaty. We definitely needed the spoon it came with to eat it and the fresh whipped cream it was topped with was the perfect finish.

The fact that we went to Bobby’s Burger Palace not only once but twice speaks for itself. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who stops by the Mohegan Sun Casino. There are also two other locations in New Jersey and one in New York. So if you’re ever in the same neighborhood as one of Bobby’s Burger Palaces, and looking for a great burger, don’t think twice about stopping by. Who knows, you may just go back for seconds too…

*All of Bobby's Burger Palace's menus are available at the link above.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: Crispi's Italian Cuisine

Crispi's Italian Cuisine of 136 Broad St. (Route 18) in Bridgewater, Mass is a nice place to go for a night out with your significant other. But notice, I didn't say a quiet night out, because once you step inside the restaurant, it's anything but. It's a classic representation of a loud, Italian family style dinner, and because it was packed the night we went, I felt like I was enjoying just that. So if you're looking for a quiet place, don't go to Crispi's. If you don't mind the boisterous noise that comes along with any Mediterranean, family-style restaurant, then definitely make an appoint to go, because it's well worth it. We went on a Thursday night and, purely by chance, we got lucky. Thursdays are half price wine night, where every wine on the list is half off. Thanks to this special, which we didn't know about, we were able to enjoy two $10+ glasses of wine, for about $10 total.

Now, on to the food. They started off the meal, like any good Italian restaurant does, with warm bread and oil to dip it in. The oil was so-so, but it had nothing on the garlic rosemary oil that they give you at Bertucci's. Still, it was a nice way to start out the meal. We decided to share an appetizer and a salad, so we got the seafood stuffed mushrooms ($7) and the fresh mozzarella and plum tomato salad ($9). The mushrooms were nicely seasoned and very tender and the seafood stuffing was light and very flavorful. The salad was almost a classic caprese, but they were skimpy on the fresh basil and there was no balsamic or any other dressing on the salad itself. Just a side of balsamic vinaigrette which tasted like it was from a bottle. It was still good, with very fresh tomatoes, but it just wasn't executed as well as it could have been for a $9 price tag.

For dinner we decided to split an entree also. We decided on the Chicken Crispino ($15), described as "a boneless breast of chicken with our homemade stuffing, prosciutto and mozzarella, topped with bacon and rosemary in a mushroom and Marsala wine sauce". All of the entrees come with pasta, and we had been looking forward to the homemade gnocchi the entire time, only to find out that they unfortunately didn't have any more left, so we decided on the homemade cheese ravioli instead.

The dinner was good, but wasn't exactly what we were expecting. The chicken was tender and flavorful, but the stuffing was more mushy than anything. It didn't really have any texture and you definitely couldn't distinctly taste the prosciutto or the mozzarella. The sauce did make up for the lack of flavor in the stuffing, however. It had a very rich red wine flavor, and the mushrooms were cooked nicely. Some of the bacon was a little bit fatty, not cooked completely crisp, which in combination with the wet sauce did not have the most pleasing mouth texture. But the fresh rosemary, which was used a bit too sparingly in my opinion, along with all of the other flavors, really tied the entire dish together. I only had one bite with a fresh rosemary leaf, but let me tell you that one bite was delicious because the rosemary complemented everything and it also consisted of a nicely cooked bite of bacon to go along with the stuffed chicken. Although the sauce was good overall, it could have been plated with a slightly lighter hand, because the chicken was basically swimming in it. Overall though, the Crispini was a pretty good, very rich and filling dish.

I had thought that the ravioli were going to be served on the plate with the chicken, in that sauce, as spaghetti would be with a parmigiana. Instead, there were four ravioli total, and they were served in a tiny bowl with a scoop of watery, over seasoned marinara. The ravioli that came with the dish was at best average. The pasta was fine, but it was a bit overcooked and the filling lacked flavor. The dried oregano in the sauce was used in excess, and combined with the watery tomato texture, the flavor was way too strong. Definitely not worth the $3 up charge that we paid for the homemade pasta.

Overall, the food at Crispi's was pretty good. I would definitely go back again to sample some of their other menu items and I would definitely recommend going on a Thursday night, because you can't beat the half price option for their entire wine list which is very extensive.

*All of Crispi's menus are available at their website listed above.

Review: Tailgate Picnic

Tailgate Picnic of 7 College St., South Hadley, Mass is one of those places that you don't really appreciate until you're a little bit more grown up. As a kid, I grew up in South Hadley, but never really felt for Tailgate the way I do now. You could call it a love affair...and that would be putting it lightly. Tailgate is a part of the Village Commons which is basically the center of town and it's right across the street from Mt. Holyoke College. Most people that go there do so regularly, and the staff comes to know these "regulars" orders like the back of their hands.

Tailgate offers a variety of different breakfast and lunch sandwiches, as well as salads, soups and other specials. They also specialize in gourmet gift baskets, which can be ordered from their website and delivered. They have a wide selection of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well as all of the accompaniments that you might need to go along with your meal.
As a kid, I was a little bit picky about what I ate. So, every time I would go, which wasn't very often, I would get a salad with a scoop of tuna on it. It's your average, lighter-fare meal, with a garden salad of a few veggies and some romaine, topped with a scoop of tuna. Perfect if you're looking for a healthy meal, not so perfect if you don't want to be bored.

Thankfully, I smartened up in my old age. I sort of forgot about Tailgate for a while, and then as soon as I got my license, Tailgate became the place to go. That was when my love affair started. The Smoked Turkey sandwich is great. It's full of smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and a garlic aioli. And, for the kids, I don't think I know a kid in South Hadley who hasn't gotten the Chicken Tenders Club at least one time in their life. It's warm breaded chicken tenders, bacon, American cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato all on a baguette and they just go crazy for it. My 17-year-old sister still orders this, nothing else. The grown up version of this sandwich is the Banker. It's the same chicken but this time with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and guacamole all in a wrap. They warm it up and it's a nice Mexican twist on a classic. I always used to get the Harvest. It's turkey, whole grain honey mustard, sharp yellow cheddar, and granny smith apples with romaine on any type of bread. It's healthy, with really sharp flavors, and it tastes great. But, I got kind of sick of it, so I decided to try something different.

The Sundried Tomatoes is fresh mozzarella, homemade pesto, and sundried tomatoes on a baguette, and it is, to this day, my go-to sandwich. Still, I change it up a bit. The sundried tomatoes they use are more like shoe leather than anything, so I omit them and ask for fresh tomatoes instead. I get it all on a rustic roll (code for a fresh ciabatta roll) and at $6.50 you can not go wrong. Their pesto is to die for...(try the pesto tortellini from the deli window as well). They lightly press the sandwich just enough to warm the bread through but not to melt the cheese. If they have caramelized onions that day, I always have them throw a few on for the perfect touch of sweetness. It's delicious, tastes like summer, and really fills you up.

They also offer different quiches, lasagnas, soups, chillis and even macaroni and cheese. The artichoke salad with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and fresh mozzarella is a great summertime salad that is light and full of great fresh flavor. And they just opened up their pastry window, which has a variety of great options from carrot cake, to a round chocolate torte with ganache and mousse and anything else chocolate you can imagine. It basically looks like a chocolate ball, and then the inside is full of different chocolate layers.

They have seating available inside as well as outside for the warmer months, and no matter what the occasion, you can always be sure that the food will be great, the atmosphere will be friendly, and the prices will be low. But be ready, because Tailgate may just become your new love affair as well.

Review: Amanouz Cafe

Catering, in my opinion, is a tough business. And it's named correctly because you have to do just that. You have to cater to the specific desires of the customers, cater to the tastes of the guests, cater to the distance and travel time, and even cater to the weather. Often times in the world of catering, no matter how good the food started out, after all the heating, cooling, reheating, and transportation, the food just isn't the same. So, if you're looking for a dynamite catering service and restaurant, look no further than Amanouz Cafe of 44 Main St. Northampton, Mass.

As a summer job, I work on a 49 passenger river cruise boat in South Hadley called the Lady Bea ( The boat offers daily cruises as well as private charters. At the end of June, we had a private charter for a wedding reception on the boat and the food was catered by Amanouz. Once the two hour cruise was finished, the couple was generous enough to offer the leftovers to the crew, myself included. And let me tell was our lucky day, because even after a 30 minute drive from Northampton to South Hadley, a boat full of people, and a two hour cruise, the food was still impeccable...a tough thing to accomplish in my book.

Specializing in Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, Amanouz offers a great selection of choices. Being half Greek, I already have a love for this type of food, so I was not shy and I dug right in. There was a salad that was light and healthy, full of different veggies and a lemony vinaigrette and topped with avocado slices that weren't even the slightest bit brown. The falafel were to die for; fried, but not greasy, drizzled with tahini, and perfectly green inside thanks to fresh herbs. I put them inside a fresh pita with some tomato, cucumber, and homemade babaghannoush, which was sweet and full of perfectly-seasoned eggplant, and made myself the perfect afternoon sandwich. The hummus was fresh, definitely homemade and boasted the flavors of Morocco with every bite. Also, there was a nice pita pizza, lightly topped with spinach and cheese, and a summery pasta dish with farfalle, fresh bocconcini, and grape tomatoes in olive oil.

The most impressive thing about all of the food that was brought in by Amanouz was the quality and freshness of the ingredients and the care and passion that was clearly put into all of the food that was offered. The fact that it was so fresh, flavorful, and beautiful, even after a long trip on the road and a cruise on the Connecticut River, shows just how good the chefs at Amanouz are at what they do.

I have never been to the actual restaurant before, but after sampling everything they have to offer in a catered setting, I can easily say that I'd stroll into their restaurant any day of the week, prepared to be even more impressed by the food, simply because of the fact that it was great even after the true test of catering.

*All of Amanouz Cafe's menus are available at their website listed above.