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.