06 Jun 2009 @ 5:27 AM 

I know we’ve mentioned Hiro Sushi a time or two.  There’s a reason for that.  From the moment you walk through the door at Hiro, you are transported into a serene, beautiful world that delites the senses.  From the design of the restaurant itself, to the wonderful service, to the amazing food, there is no aspect of Hiro with which we can find fault.  Ok, that’s not entirely true.  They’ve become pretty popular, and it’s not as easy to pop in and get a table anymore!

One thing we have failed to mention here due to our pure love of their sushi is that Hiro DOES serve many other non-sushi items!  While we most frequently enjoy their sushi (Wasabi Stingers, Baby.  Wasabi Stingers.), The Critical Wife’s pregnancy, and occasional lunacy have driven us to order other things from Hiro’s Menu.  I can’t say that we’ve ever been sorry.

Over our five years of patronage, we have enjoyed both the Japanese and Chinese food served at Hiro.  This post, however, is specifically about the Chinese Menu.  The dishes we have most recently tried are Milton’s Chicken, Imperial Chicken, and the Peanut Butter Chicken.

The first thing you will notice about Hiro Sushi’s Chinese food is the extremely high quality ingredients.  Each dish is cooked to order, meaning that your food hasn’t been sitting around in a warmer, flash fried at the last minute, and served gooey or mushy after reheating.  The chicken is beautiful white meat – freshly cooked and not at all “ambiguous”.  There are no nasty bits or questionable pieces floating around in these dishes.  On top of that, the flavor overall will leave you amazed and impressed.  I challenge you to try Hiro’s Chinese food and tell me you’ve ever had better.

Price-wise, Hiro’s Chinese food may be a few dollars more than your average Chinese restaurant.  The thing is?  It is so worth it.  Every bite is fresh, hot, flavorful, and cooked just for you, when you ordered it.  The owners’ pride in their restaurant once again comes through in every dish.

Plusses:  Hiro’s Chinese food is by far the best we’ve had, and we have eaten A LOT of Chinese food, in a lot of cities, with a lot of “Ambiguous Chicken”.  The owners are also a big plus, as is the spectacular service we’ve come to expect at Hiro.

Minuses:  The only one we can force ourselves to come up with is that Hiro has gotten very busy.  Thankfully, the owners are opening a second restaurant in the Old Market area – so we expect this mini-minus to be resolved soon!

Overall Impression:   You will not find better Chinese food in all of Omaha than that served at Hiro Sushi.  The biggest problem is picking just one dish.  So we recommend choosing several.  Have we mentioned it’s also great cold the next morning?

Posted By: The Critical Wife
Last Edit: 25 Jun 2009 @ 03:56 AM

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 06 Jun 2009 @ 4:43 AM 

The Omaha Critic and I (his oh so critical wife!) are always on the lookout for good pizza.  I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned it in these parts, but we have a large brood.  While the youngest isn’t quite up to chowing down on a good slice of pie yet, the rest are highly appreciative of any place that will serve them tasty melted cheese and pepperoni. 

Sadly, I will admit we find most of the major pizza chains lacking.  Sure, they will do in a pinch, and some of them have some fairly cheap deals that allow us to feed our gang without going broke, but they just serve pizza with no character. 

In hopes of finding pizza WITH character, the Critic and I went AWOL and tried Pudgy’s Pizza near 168th and Harrison.  We showed up around 7:30 on a Friday night to find the place busy, but with a table or two open. 

We grabbed a table, and I went up to the counter to place our order, which was for a 14″ Chicago Deep Dish with Pepperoni, Beef, Olives, and Mushrooms.  Yeah, The Critic is a purist and would have probably preferred straight up pepperoni or “The Works”, but *I* was the one ordering!  Had he noticed they served them, The Critic would also have liked to try their Chicago style hot dogs, but we will have to save that for another time.

The restaurant itself is unassuming.  The decor is obviously meant to bring Chicago to mind.  The joint itself isn’t fancy.  You order at the counter and get your own drinks.  But really?  You don’t need fancy in a pizza joint.  In a word, it’s comfortable.  Honestly, that’s perfect for a neighborhood pizza joint.

After a bit of a wait (it was Friday night, and they had a steady stream of business) our pizza was delivered to our table by the owner, along with paper plates, napkins, and plastic flatware.  Again, it’s unassuming.  But the pizza itself?  It was good.  The Omaha Critic and I have both spent some time in Chicago, and tried various pizza joints, including the famous Lou Malnotti’s.  I will say, it is not quite as deep, nor as saucy.  But it was still VERY good.  The crust was thick, but not doughy.  The toppings were plentiful and high quality.  They sprinkled the top with garlic salt or powder, which added a nice tang to the pizza.  All in all, it was a great pie. 

That character we were in search of?  It came in the form of Pudgy’s Pizza owner Phil “Pudgy” Cerra.   While it was our first time eating in the restaurant, we felt like we were somewhere we’d been many times before.  Pudgy stopped at our table several times to check on how we were doing, how the food was, and to make some suggestions for future visits based on how The Critic doctored his pizza (lots of red pepper!).  While this could be annoying if done by the wrong personality, it certainly wasn’t.  Pudgy is a very personable guy, and obviously has the drive it takes to make a great pizza joint work.

I can definitely say we’ll be going back, and taking our band of devils cherubs with us next time!

Plusses: The food itself – hearty, tasty, and plentiful.  The service – all of the employees were smiling and appeared to be having a great time!  We have to say the owner, Phil “Pudgy” Cerra was a big plus.  His personality brings a lot to the overall atmosphere of the place.  Also, the kitchen, which is visible from the counter where you order, is clean and appears to run very well.

Minuses:  They need a bigger location with more tables.  A jukebox would be nice (or some sort of music).  And if the pizza was about a half inch deeper, it would overtake any Chicago Deep Dish we’ve ever tried.

Overall Impression:  The pizza “friggin’ rocked” (The Omaha Critic’s exact words).  We were greatly impressed not only with the food, but with the owner’s great care and concern for all of his customers, and the great attention he paid to making sure everyone had a great experience.  If you’re in West Omaha, it’s definitely worth your time to get a great pizza.  Even if you’re not in West O?  It’s well worth the trek.  Pudgy’s Pizza.  Get some!

Posted By: The Critical Wife
Last Edit: 06 Jun 2009 @ 04:48 AM

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 29 Sep 2008 @ 3:20 PM 

Ok, since I finally remembered how to log into this thing, I’m going to write the first official Omaha Critic post written by The Critical Wife!  (Yes, you may applaud now.  ;-)  )

Early last week, I was driving in the area of 108th and Q, and noticed a sign for a restaurant I had not seen before.  The sign advertised “Cuba Linda”, a Cuban restaurant.  Fantastic!  My husband LOVES trying new restaurants and also loves Cuban food, so this would be a great choice.  Well – Sunday afternoon rolled around and we needed to find a place for a late lunch/early dinner.  We had a kiddo attending a birthday party at Zzzap! Laser Adventures, which is almost right across the street from the Cuba Linda restaurant, so it all seemed fortuitous that we give the restaurant a try.

When we entered the restaurant, I was impressed by the amount of time and attention that has gone into decorating the place.  Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s a very homey type of decoration.  The walls are painted the colors of the Cuban flag, the seats are draped with seat covers and tied with bows.  It’s just all very pretty and homey.  The bar in the corner is even more festive, and I’m sure, were I not pregnant, that a lovely Cuban cocktail would have really hit the spot!

From reading the menu, it seems that Cuba Linda has been in business since 1997, but it must have been at a different location.  In searching online, it appears that the current incarnation opened in March of 2007, so the restaurant does have some history behind it.  It was, however, new to us!

For our meal, we ordered a starter of chicken empanadas, which came out quickly.  I giggled a little bit at the use of ketchup lightning bolts to decorate the plate – but my giggles were soon replaced by groans of ecstasy.  Yes, my friends, they were THAT good.  The dough of the empanadas was fried crispy, and dusted with sugar.  Inside, the shredded chicken mixture blended with potatoes, green olives, corn, and some kind of seasoning, and it was all just truly lovely together.  I also have to admit, just a bit of ketchup with the empanada was exactly the right flavor!  It was fantastic. 

For the main course, we ordered arroz con pollo, seafood paella, green plantains with shrimp, and a Cuban pork sandwich.  My only complaint with any of the main dishes is that the rice in the arroz con pollo and paella was dry, but the flavor of everything was really good.  The arroz con pollo is served as yellow rice with spanish olives and onions, with a stewed chicken leg.  It is served in a combination platter with sweet plantains and a fried egg omelette.  The seafood paella, similarly, came stuffed with seafood – mussles and shrimp and all sorts of yumminess, along with the sweet plantains, refried smashed plantains (not sure what these were called) and the omelette. The green plantains are the fried sweet plantains, mashed, and then refried, with a red sauce and shrimp on the top.  Omaha Critic liked the green plantains, but the kids ended up just picking off the shrimp. The Cuban sandwich was stuffed with pork and cheese, and also was very fresh, hot, and tasty.  Of all of the dishes, the Cuban sandwhich was probably the easist for the kids to enjoy, as the flavors weren’t off their radar at all.  The plantains threw them a little!

The one thing we noticed about the restaurant as we sat enjoying our food was that literally EVERYONE around us was speaking Spanish.  At the time we were there, which was about 4 pm on a Sunday afternoon, there were two other tables with patrons, and another table at which either the owners or their friends were sitting.  There was conversation around the restaurant between the different tables, which gave the place a very friendly feeling, as if a bunch of good friends were just sitting around enjoying a meal. 

As far as prices go, Cuba Linda seemed fairly reasonable.  The appetizers ranged from about $3 to $7, and the main courses ranged from about $8 to $15.  Our total before tip for four entrees, one starter, and five drinks (non-alcoholic) was around $47, which we don’t consider to be too bad.  We all left quite full, and everyone, even our children, enjoyed their meal. 

I will complain slightly that we didn’t try the desserts, a grave error which WILL be rectified the next time we go!

Our server was very efficient and friendly, and although Spanish is obviously his primary language, he made every effort to make sure he understood our English.  We felt a little disappointed we couldn’t participate in more of the discussions going on in the restaurant, but it was fun to watch and listen to everyone else interacting.  Having the only English in the place spoken only at your table does make you feel that you’ve stepped into another world for a litte while!

Pluses: The food is a huge plus, everything was very tasty.  Service – our server was fun and friendly.  Ambiance – It’s obvious the owner has put a lot of time and energy into making the little homey restaurant look nice.

Minuses: Like I said, the rice was pretty dry.  The tables are fairly close together, but the restaurant is small.  I would imagine on a Friday or Saturday night, if the place is really busy, that it could feel really crowded.

Overall Impression:  I loved it.  It had a great atmosphere, and great food, and we will definitely go back again!  My rating overall is a solid 3.5 napkins, leaning toward 4. 

~The Critical Wife

Posted By: The Critical Wife
Last Edit: 29 Sep 2008 @ 03:25 PM

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 26 Aug 2008 @ 3:34 AM 

Ok, so it’s not the most spiffy catch phrase/title I have come up with.  Along with the name of the restaurant, it may be a little misleading.  It is what it is. 

On this evening out, it was the eldest son and I.  It was the night of what will, I’m sure, be the first of many “man talks”.  The kid is 10 and well, I must say that he is like his old man and “bloom early”.  We’ve already seen some of the signs…  The “faux stash” has started to appear and his little legs are starting to hair up.  It is a little disconcerting.  That being said, my wife and I decided that a night out with Pappa would be a good way to break some ice.  So after a few rounds of “Where do you want to go?”, I decided that it may just be best to go where I want to go and leave the rest to fate. 

It was a little later in the evening on a Friday night, (around 8:00PM) and we pulled into Prima 140.  There were just a few cars in the parking lot.  Looking into the place the tables were sparsely occupied.  I was a little worried that things may have gone downhill since I was there last, but went in anyway.   We were immediately greeted by a friendly, well put together waitress and then quickly seated.    Very soon after, someone came by and filled our water glass and placed bread on the table.  My son looked at me and asked me if I was going to review the place and I shrugged and told him the evening was about us, not a review.  He cocked his head and looked at me confused.  I then offered to let him “help me”.  He seemed to like the idea and proceeded to look at his menu blankly, not knowing really what he was looking at.

A few moments later, Matt, our waiter came over and started the “dance” of introductions, specials, and drink orders.  (Now in some previous string of comments, I was asked why I would put the server’s name.  Matt’s performance is exactly WHY I think it is a good thing.)  After Matt finished listing the specials, I had a few questions about what was on the menu, some things about the specials, and an appetizer.  He didn’t just answer, he elaborated on how it was prepared, what was in it, when the ingredients came in, and how proud the chef was about the fish.  Not to the point of being a pest, but Matt relished and understood what he was serving.  Soon after that brought our drinks, took our order and left us alone except to answer any question, check on us and fill our drinks. (until later when I cornered him about the place.)

My son and I ordered two different fish specials: My Mahi-mahi and then my son ordered (Oh man.. now I forgot. *gulp*) something else.  We also ordered the alligator pot stickers and another shrimp appetizer.  After that we began our “chat” about the who’s and the what’s and “where do babies come from” speech.  I must say, that was one of the hardest questions I have ever had to answer.  I’m an open guy.  I like my children to talk to me, but the boy didn’t want to ask questions.  So I must have sounded like a dope.  This 10 year old kid had me blushing.  Fortunately, I don’t think Matt, our server noticed or he was nice enough not to let on.  So our appetizers came and the boy and I sampled them timidly.  That didn’t last long.  The pot stickers were fantastic.  The alligator, which is typically chewy and fishy when I’ve had it, was tender, savory and just melted in my mouth.  The accompanying sauce really complimented the pot stickers.  The shrimp were fresh and had that nice pop when you bit into them.  They were not overcooked and went well, offsetting the richness of the pot stickers. 

After knocking out our appetizers, Matt came with our fish.  He gave us a presentation of what was on our plate, giving center stage to the fresh Mahi-mahi that was before me.  I cut into it, just delighted.  It came with a rich sauce that clung to the fish and enhanced its flavor.   (You know how on Iron Chef when they talk about the theme ingredient?  How some chef’s really bring out the flavor or the theme ingredient and others don’t?  Yeah…)  This was Mahi-mahi and it tasted like Mahi-mahi is supposed to taste.  It tasted like a breeze off of the ocean, with a meaty undertone and grilled sunshine.  The sauce was a rich brown savory sauce that spread across the pallet and didn’t overpower.  I took in each bit as it was meant to be taken: a slow orchestral romp of culinary happiness.  There was a lot going on in each bite.  It didn’t taste at all fishy.  It was… perfect.  Can you tell I liked it?  *laugh*

So now it comes time for dessert.  I picked the chocolate pecan tort.  The pecans were crunchy, and the crust of the torte was flaky.  The filling under the pecans was moist, but firm.  It was again… Perfect.
I am always amazed at the Prima 140 chef’s presentation on each plate.  It is one of the few places in Omaha that actually take the time to produce a beautiful plate.  It is a great counterbalance to all of the generic, pre-produced, fried plates that are cranked out of the generic tasteless kitchens that we people in Omaha seem to flock to.  Thank you Prima for helping to keep beauty, flavor, and art in food.  Thank you Matt for being one of the top 5 servers I have ever had in Omaha.   You joined a very exclusive group.

Plusses: Service. The food was amazing. The kitchen was visible and clean. The bar was well stocked and beautiful.  The place was flawless.

Minuses:  Two words – Bigger portions.  (HA!)  Actually they aren’t open on Sundays.  I think I would have gone there more if it had been open on Sundays.

Overall Impression:  Num-Num!  I had a great time.  My server was professional, courteous, knowledgeable, prompt, attentive, and funny.  He was PART of the experience, not just some goober that just slung plates at us.  This is another place I URGE the good people of Omaha to FLOCK to.  This place is fabulous!

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 26 Aug 2008 @ 03:58 PM

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 22 Aug 2008 @ 11:01 PM 

Yesterday was a rainy, icky, ugly day.  (At least in the morning.)  It was a day of discouraging personal news and the weather seemed to match our mood.  We went to a friend’s house and chatted about lunch.  Since my friend lives near mid-town we wanted to find something close.  That is when my wife suggested the Lithuanian Bakery on 74th and Pacific.  Hex (Our friend) and I didn’t care.  It was close and they supposedly had a Lithuanian Torte which we were all in love with so we shrugged and climbed into the Critic-Mobile.  I took it out of stealth mode and dove.

We pulled up to this old strip mall that had (or is) the site of McKenna’s, and in the corner was this little bakery.  The sign was half gone from the wind storms we’ve had here recently.  I think all it said was “Lithu”.  Anyway, it left me sad that they had not repaired it or at least taken it down.  So we walk in and see a counter full of pastries.  To the right, a set of shelves with various “old world” treats.  To the left was a small and unassuming dining area.  The three of us take a seat and start perusing the menu.

I have to admit, their menu is small.  It’s unassuming, uncomplicated, and unpretentious.  It is what it is.  A small shop selling some great food.  I ordered the “combo plate” that knackwurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and a potato salad.  My wife ordered the kielbasa plate and Hex ordered the Pastrami sandwich.  It wasn’t the prettiest food I’ve eaten, but the portions were good size and the flavor was spot on.  The sausages that I sampled had a very smooth and consistent texture and married very well with the mellow sauerkraut.  My wife’s kielbasa reminded me of sausages that I’ve had from small butcher shops in south Texas.  Very tasty and a little smoky.  Hex claimed that her pastrami and swiss was the best one she had ever had.  It was interesting, because it was one of the ugliest sandwiches I have seen.

Our server was attentive, and seemed to be proud of her little shop.  She was eager for our approval and lit up when we talked about how good it was.  We finished off with a slice (My wife and I shared while Hex had her own) of chocolate Lithuanian torte.  It was very flaky and done perfectly.  I wish I had a nice espresso or a cup o’ mud to go with it.  It was very rich and well prepared.  I will definitely go back for more.

Pluses: Good food at a very reasonable price.  The Sauerkraut wasn’t overpowering and was an excellent accompaniment to the sausages.  Our server was friendly and attentive.

Minuses: I wanted more sauerkraut on the plate, presentation needed a little work, and the sign out front needs fixing.

Overall Impression: I want to go back again and again.  I loved it.  I have to rate it fairly against others, so it won’t score on the high side.  The food took me back to my mothers cooking (when she took the time to do it like her mom).  The torte was to die for and I wanted to eat ALL the pastries that they had in the case.  Everyone was nice and friendly.  I went early on a Thursday so I don’t know how much business they do.  I would hope that after reading this you go try them out.

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 22 Aug 2008 @ 11:13 PM

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 01 Aug 2008 @ 11:41 PM 

Lunch.. The final froti… ok.. it was lunch. As a matter of fact it was lunch at Absolutely Fresh Seafood/Shucks Oyster Bar. This is going to be brief. I want to elaborate, especially since I have been called “prejudiced” for bashing my server at Jazz, but it was only lunch and we were in and out in 35 minutes. So, I am going to run down some things kinda fast.

This the history as I know it for Absolutely Fresh Seafood: A few years back, there used to be this truck that was driven up from Louisiana to Omaha full of seafood. It was parked on the corner of 72nd and Dodge, and they used to sell out the entire semi over the weekend. This happened on some schedule that I could never quite figure out. I would buy boudin balls and boudin by the case as well as anything that seemed good at the time. Well, after a while of this someone thought that they should just open a shop in Omaha and fly everything in. Well, they did opened a shop down on 19th and Leavenworth Street and they have the best seafood for purchase in town. So after a while of doing great business, they opened a second location on 119th and Pacific Streets. They did great and wanted to something else. So using their seafood from the shop, and some awesome recipes from Louisiana (WHERE THEY WERE FROM), they opened Shuck’s Oyster Bar.

I have been to Shuck’s many times and I have to say that each time I go, the experience has been fantastic. The service is prompt, the food is out of this world, and the atmosphere is very “hole in the wall’. So much so, that they made a hole in the wall next to their seafood shop to put in Shucks. It’s awesome.

So today my wife and I went out for lunch. We walked in to the place and you can smell the fish, but it’s not overwhelming. You get exactly what it is. It IS a fish market with a oyster bar shoe-horned in it. Nothing pretentious about it. It is what it is. We take our seat at the paper covered table and are immediately greeted and asked for our drink order. There are about 20 or so tables and 3 servers. Each of which covered each others tables. So we get our drinks and place our order. Wife: Fish and chips. Me: Lobster roll and a cup of gumbo. After a few moments, my gumbo hits the table. It has a dark rich chocolate colored roux, with plenty of shrimp, okra, and andouille sausage. There was rice on top with a little file’ sprinkled over it. It has that ‘pop’ that just… MMMmmmm…. I liked the gumbo at Jazz, but it just wasn’t a flavor that went over the top. This had it. Just enough bite to make it warm you, but not to hurt you. The flavor was so deep, you could taste the layers that were built on the roux. It was awesome.

I have had many lobster rolls in my time. Typically they are lobster bits in some mayo on a dried out roll. Small, and just not that good. Today I have found a ‘moment’ on a bun. There were large chunks of fresh lobster claws. The bun was still warm and was toasted. The lobster sang through the mayonnaise instead of drowning in it. It had shredded lettuce that was still crisp and complimented the lobster. The whole experience of eating that thing left me teary eyed. It was a huge lobster roll with huge chunks of lobster in it on a very fresh toasted roll. I thought I was in heaven. It is a MUST HAVE again and again. Our service was spot on. Never an empty drink. The wait staff covered for each other (I said that before I know) and we were served quickly but never felt rushed. It was an A plus experience that I plan on repeating.

Pluses: Great service, great selection, Great GUMBO, and an awesome hole in the wall atmosphere.

Minuses: It’s a hole in the wall. (Yeah, plus and minus) and there was a smell of fish when you came in, but that’s to be expected… it IS a fish market.

Overall Impression: This is one of the great little ‘joints’ in Omaha and I plan on going back again and again. I would suggest the sampler platter appetizer. I had it before and if you like fried things.. MMmmmmm.. You’ll love it. I wish they had a bigger menu, but keeping it simple has kept the quality high and I would be sad if they did anything different. Perhaps an entrance other than into the fish market. I am going to rate this as 4 napkins because it’s a hole in the wall. The food though is a SOLID 5… the service us a SOLID 5… It’s just because of what it is… a hole in the wall.

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 02 Aug 2008 @ 01:33 AM

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 17 Jul 2008 @ 6:29 AM 

Sit back, relax, for I have a long story to tell.

On Sunday afternoons, we frequently like to go out to dinner, and while we often opt for our favorite restaurants, occasionally we get the urge to try something new. Given that there is very little that is off the radar to this Critic, pretty much any restaurant or style of food is fair game.

For months, some very good friends of ours had been talking up a Cajun restaurant in downtown Omaha that they really enjoyed.  While the rest of the family isn’t crazy about Cajun cuisine, we all were willing to give it a try.  We piled the brood into the van and headed downtown, to the corner of 14th and Farnam, excited to give Jazz, a Louisiana Kitchen, a try.
 
“The Critical Wife” is a woman of strong first impressions.  Given that Jazz is located in a very old building in downtown Omaha, it’s not unusual that the building did have somewhat of a stale, moldy, “old” smell.  Unfortunately, Jazz goes beyond that – to a smell reminiscent of rat infestation and rot.  We had a brief discussion as a group on whether they were just trying to increase the authenticity of the restaurant, to make it smell like the bayou in summer – but in the end decided it was just the smell of the building overall.  I found it odd though, that the first smell that I got when I walked in wasn’t food, but nasty rot.  Undaunted by a little stink (and my ravenous desire for boudin balls) we walked in.  Amazingly enough, after you passed the threshold of the place, it passes.

We were seated after only a moment at a table that would accommodate our two combined families – a group of five adults and two “tweens” and were given our menus.  We then sat and waited for our waiter to appear to take our drink order. 

It should be noted at this point that it was 4 pm on a Sunday afternoon.  Aside from our table, there were only two other tables with people eating, and only one waiter that we could see working.

So we waited.

And we waited.

Did I say we waited?

Eventually, the server DID come take our order.  I would tell you his name, but I don’t believe he actually introduced himself.  We gave our drink orders, and had to correct him regarding the number of drinks we had just ordered.  He went off, and did return fairly quickly with our drinks, and to take our order. 

Within the group of us, we ordered a few appetizers – two orders of fried pickles, an order of boudin balls, a cup of gumbo, and an order of jambalaya (with extra spice).  For dinner, our children ordered seafood and chicken fettuccine alfredo (two separate dishes).  The adults ordered shrimp and scallops pontchartrain, crawfish etouffe with jambalaya, beer battered shrimp, and blackened redfish.  Simple enough right?  My friend and I asked for cayenne pepper on the side so that we could kick up our food.  The waiter looked right at us, and with a straight face (IN A CAJUN RESTERAUNT) said that they only have Cajun seasoning and DIDN’T HAVE CAYENNE PEPPER.  There… I said it.  This was a sign.  We should have walked out then and there.  We took a few moments to explain to this guy that in fact, Cayenne Pepper is the source for the majority of the seasoning in many, many Cajun dishes and that he should get his butt back to the kitchen and get some.

So, we think that this guy is a complete dope and hope to salvage the rest of the afternoon.  So, we try to wrap up our order.  Uhm….Yeah…  We made the mistake of asking for separate checks at the BEGINNING of the meal.  So after explaining it to this guy a few times, he scurried off to start the dance with the point of sale register, to TRY an put our order in.

We then began the wait.

So, after a long while, finally, things started to come up.  When our appetizers hit the table, our waiter executed one of our biggest pet peeves in restaurant dining – bringing the appetizers only a couple of minutes before the food.  (Ok, more like 47 seconds)  We had no sooner each taken a bite of fried pickle than our main course items appeared.  This is a huge problem in our opinion, as we like to be able to enjoy our appetizers, and form an opinion of what the food is like,  before feeling the pressure to begin eating our main course items.

When your food appears damn near at the same time as the appetizers, you suddenly have the pressure to slam down the appetizers so you can get to your main course while it’s still warm.  This tends to make me angry.  To make it worse, when our food was delivered, the order was once again wrong.  The server had not paid any attention to which dish went where on the table, so we had to tell him to place the food in the right spots.  This doesn’t really bother me much, but the fact that the waiter apparently had no clue as to who ordered what, was truly annoying.

As to the food itself, it was definitely a mixed bag. Of the appetizers, I will say Jazz has one of the best examples of fried pickles I have tried in Omaha.  This is actually a large part of why we decided to go to the restaurant.  The boudin balls were disappointing.  There were 4 little fried balls of weak boudin, swimming in a puddle of pontchartrain sauce.  I wasn’t impressed.  The boudin was honestly more filler than actual boudin.  The pontchartrain sauce though, had a great flavor, but it should have been a backstage player to the boudin, and not the star of the dish. The gumbo did have good flavor and spice, but overall, was disappointing.  It was like it was missing something…  A very special and needed “something”. 

I had ordered the blackened red fish.  It came with their version of dirty rice and steamed summer squash.  The fish, I am happy to say was awesome.  It had a great blackened seasoning and a fantastic crust on the outside.  It was seasoned just right (Though I still added that crazy thing called cayenne pepper) and was moist in the middle.  The fish was really well executed.  The dirty rice left something to be desired. Dirty rice is generally served a little saucier, with some form of meat or sausage in it.  Jazz’s variation had no meat, lots of spice, and was very dry.  The flavor left me bummed.  The steamed summer squash wasn’t anything to write home about.  I did however; find myself craving more fish the rest of the night.

So, as I said before, I had ordered the jambalaya extra hot.  I ordered it as an appetizer.  I didn’t get it but instead got crawfish etouffe with jambalaya.  This was a serious point of contention.  I had ordered it as an appetizer and not a main dish, and I did not order the crawfish etouffe.  So we bring this up to Mr. waiter boy and he proceeded to argue about it.  Everyone at the table was involved in the conversation where I ordered it, we all explained the difference to this guy, so any ding dong should get that they were two different dishes.  So he grabbed the plate of crawfish etouffe and scurried off.  Well, just as I was wrapping up my redfish, he shows up with this HUG plate of jambalaya.  I had tasted my friend’s crawfish etouffe with the jambalaya.  He had put a ton of extra cayenne pepper in it so it was hot.  Yeah…. Not nearly as hot as my brand spanking new plate of jambalaya.  Here’s the thing.  I have worked in a kitchen.  The cooks get ticked off when things get sent back.  It wasn’t my fault.  The waiter was a complete moron.  So I’m guessing the kitchen though that they could blow my head off to get back at me.  Little did they know that I actually like it THAT HOT.  So I scarfed a bunch of it down and was happy as a clam.  It was more the fact that the kitchen got mad at me for the problems my stupid waiter was causing.

So after that, we were encouraged by our friend to try the beignets.  To be more specific, the chocolate beignets.  So my wife ordered the regular and our friends and I ordered a few chocolate ones. 

We waited again. 

We waited a long while.

As we sat there, other servers started serving other guests coming in.  They started to help our waiter, and began to bring out the disserts.  Uhh… They were wrong.  Blueberry does not equal chocolate.  They delivered the regular beignets and took back the blueberry.  We got to wait another 20 minutes.  After that, “The Professor” finally showed up with the other 3.  At this point, I am livid… I won’t even look the guy in the face because I want to start screaming.  I held my composure because we were with friends and kids.  I didn’t want to sour the experience even more for them.

And again we waited.  Ok, we didn’t JUST wait – The Omaha Critic, The Critical Wife, and The Critical Teen tucked into the plain beignets. They were ALMOST enough to forgive the smell of the restaurant AND the bad service.  The Chantilly cream alone was heaven, and it’s a small surprise we didn’t all end up licking our the small paper cups the whipped cream was served in.  (Honestly, if we were not in public, each and every one of us would have.) 

In the time it took us to finish the four good-sized beignets, the chocolate beignets finally arrived.  They were loaded with rich, creamy, warm (dark-ish) chocolate, and again were amazing accompanied by the whipped cream.  A small fight broke out at our table regarding who got to finish each beignet, and who got to scrape all the cream out of each paper cup.  I am not even kidding about that. The beignets really are THAT good.  I will admit, I have not had beignets before to compare to these – but I imagine the beignets at Jazz are good enough to stand up for themselves in any beignet battle.

About the atmosphere – we were there on a Sunday afternoon, but I’m told that in the evenings, they normally have a jazz band playing on the upper level above the dining room.  The atmosphere of the place, aside from the smell, does have the “Cajun bayou” feel – with lots of “flair” on the walls adding authenticity.  There ARE a lot of beads strewn about the decor – but I would hope there would be no “earning of the beads” in a family restaurant!  The tables were clean and sturdy, with fairly comfortable chairs, and the cooking area and bar appeared clean.  The restrooms were overall fairly clean, although the women’s restaurant had non-functioning stalls and paper towel dispensers. 

There is one other element of the downtown experience that is possibly a detractor for this restaurant depending on your point of view.  Downtown Omaha does have somewhat of a homeless contingent, with the park across from Jazz being one of their main congregating places.  On the way to the park, we saw two very obviously mentally affected men who appeared to be homeless walking the streets.  While we were eating, another man who was quite obviously strung out on drugs did enter the restaurant and spent some time sitting at the bar before wandering back out.  Obviously, this is nothing Jazz can control, but it could be a factor if you chose to visit Jazz in the evening. 

Scoring the restaurant is difficult.  The food, overall, was pretty good.  There were some dishes, which we wouldn’t consider Cajun specialties, which weren’t that great.  Other things, that were Cajun specialties, were much better, and were enjoyed by the majority of our group, so going merely on the food alone, it was a good experience. 

The atmosphere was somewhat impacted by the presence of the junkie, and very definitely by the smell of the building, but overall the owners have done a nice job in giving the restaurant a good look and feel.

The major detractor in the experience, which completely decided the rating for us, was the overwhelmingly bad service we received.  Each and every time the server took our order – from the drinks, to the appetizers, to the main course, to the dessert, he messed it up.  Here at Omaha Critic, we pay great attention to service, and our tip increases greatly when we receive good service.  Conversely, when we have very poor service, the alternate is true.  We also pay a great deal of attention to everything else that is going on, and if the restaurant is overly busy or under-staffed, we are willing to make allowances for a stressed out server.  Sadly, Jazz was none of these when we visited.  There was no excuse for the service we received.  In addition to the incorrect orders, we frequently had to ask for refills, and the server paid no attention to which cup came from which diner.  Our glasses frequently sat empty, and our server disappeared for long periods of time.  He also never once asked how the food was, or if we needed anything.  Again, we don’t expect perfect service every time, but these basic things are big tip items for us. 

The killing blow, however, was the check.  It took our waiter over half an hour to figure out our check, getting several items wrong on both checks, and returning to stare at our table several times just to figure out how to create the bill.  Mind you – he said nothing to us when he came back – he just stood and stared at the table, and then walked off, where we would then observe him spending even more time in front of the order computer trying to get the bill to us.  Rather than wasting more of our time, we just paid the bills as they were, waiting another large amount of time for the waiter to find the change required for our friends’ bill, and we left. 

Our friends, sadly, were horrified and embarrassed that the restaurant they had been talking up for months performed so very badly. Obviously, we don’t hold it against them.  No matter how a restaurant performs, each one is an opportunity to find a new restaurant that we love.  Jazz just isn’t one of them.

Plusses: I liked the food.  It was really close to what I remember.  The portions were healthy and the beignets were divine.

Minuses: There is no nice way to say this…  Our waiter was an idiot.  He even identified that fact when he FINALLY brought us our check.  Never hover over anyone when they tell you they are not ready to pay yet.  Next time I won’t be nice.  The smell when we first walked in needs to be fixed and BAD!

Overall impression:  I hate to say that I would not recommend this place to people.  The food was good, and some things were great.  I just fear that they would get our waiter and I couldn’t in good conscience send someone there because of it.  Hint:  Bad service at a restaurant in Omaha will kill your business.

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 02 Aug 2008 @ 01:31 AM

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Categories: 2 Napkins, Cajun, Dine In, Dinner
 26 May 2008 @ 11:12 AM 

Do you like Vietnamese food?  I do.  I like it a bunch.  I have been a fan of Kim San and Saigon for years.  I was wandering around West Omaha looking for a place to eat.  I had the family in tow and we wanted to try something different.   We drove past what used to be the shell of the old “Cheeseburger Cheeseburger” out on West Center road.  On the building was “O Mai”, hanging on the wall.  My wife looks over at me and says “Oh, hey.  I got a mailer on that place and I wanted to try it.”

Not being one to deny my wife anything and liking Vietnamese food myself, I pulled into the back of the building.  We meandered the wooden walkway in between the two buildings toward the front.  We noticed that there was a crew dismantling the remains of the old “Moe’s” that was recently closed.  Then we looked left into O Mai’s.  We noticed it was empty, save a lone child sitting at a table eating.  We looked at the open sign then looked at each other, wondering if it was really open.  We opened the door and let ourselves in. 
I had been into the place when it was “Cheeseburger Cheeseburger”.  It was the quintessential 50’s, retro-look wannabe.  Now, the gleaming chrome was replaced by earth-tone greens and yellows.  It was elegant and pristine.  It was very clean and nice.  We stood looking around and soon we were seated. 

We ordered appetizers and drinks and waited for a while.  Eventually they came out and brought our appetizers.  It was a little awkward because they didn’t take our order until after we were finished eating our appetizers.  Now…   We had a few kinds of spring rolls and a fried roll of some sort.  There was also squid in the form of a calamari (fried).  Oh my god.  They were so good.  I REALLY loved the Calamari and they had a bbq pork spring roll that was just awesome. 

So after we put in our order for our dinner, we started the long… arduous wait for our food.  I ordered a seafood, tomato, noodle soup (No, I don’t remember which one..  Look at the menu.. Sheesh)  Once of my daughters ordered this noodle dish, the other ordered Pho, and my wife ordered this grilled chicken dish.  The older boy ordered fried rice and the other ordered a seafood pho.   Now, as we sat there, some guy walks in.  We’re sitting at our table, the only people there, and some very large man, walks in, doesn’t wait for anyone to seat him, and takes a slow leisurely stroll around.   Ok, it wasn’t leisurely.  It was freaking creepy!

So this guy takes a seat and the waitress gets him all settled in.  My wife and I actually got shivers from this guy, but we blew it off and went back to our own conversation.    So we waited there. Our food started coming out, one plate at a time.  Me, then two kids, then another…   I mean it REALLY took a long time.  5 of the 6 dishes came out.  Our fried rice was at least 15 to 20 minutes from the first dish coming out.  The waitress tried to play it off, but 15 minutes is 15 minutes.

That being said, and the service being slow… The food blew me away.  My noodles were cooked perfectly, the soup had great flavor and was very much on my radar of flavors.  My wife’s chicken, was so awesome, I wanted to take it and run off with it.  My daughter’s noodle dish was so good.  It was cooked perfectly and the vegetables were cooked but crisp. 

So, back to my soup:  I have had allot of seafood soups from Asian restaurants in my life.  One thing I always had problems with was the randomness of the fish bits, and the funky shrimp.  This time?  The flavors melded together and there wasn’t anything funky in it.  It tasted great and I sucked down the entire bowl.  After that, I turned my attention to all the dishes the kids didn’t finish.  The Pho that my daughter was eating was excellent.   There were a different kind of noodle with her dish that had a great flavor.  The meat in the Pho was tender and flavorful.  My youngest son’s Seafood Pho left me wishing I had a full order of that as well.  So..  That being said… and the service what it was…  I now have to officially rate this place.

Pluses:  The food was fantastic, the best Vietnamese food I have ever had.  Elegant and delicious, and left me wanting more.  The décor was beautiful.  The new chairs really fit with the theme and the place was spotless.   The prices were awesome and you got a great value in each meal.

Minuses:  The service was slow.  Not bad… just ridiculously slow and having your dinner for a family of 6 come out piecemeal was frustrating.

Overall Impression:  This place is a diamond in the rough.  This is one of those well kept secrets of Omaha.  I ask that you take a moment to go in here and eat.  Keep this place open.  You will not be sorry for the experience.  I am hoping they can pull it together and become one of the great restaurants of Omaha.  I plan on going back as many times as I can!

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 26 May 2008 @ 11:12 AM

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 11 Apr 2008 @ 2:38 AM 

I’m sitting here wanting to review The Amazing Pizza Machine with an open heart and mind, but I find myself bashing it over and over again each time I thought about the food.  I have to remember that it’s more than the food, it’s the total experience.  That being said, I will try to be fair and recount my entire experience.

As usual, I was running late at work and my wife and the kids were hungry.  This typically means that I’m not going to be cooking dinner.  The day we visited The Amazing Pizza Machine, the kids were on Spring Break.  We wanted to do something fun and special for them.  Sitting home all week, when my wife took the whole week off of work to be with the kids, we believed, would seriously stink.  So, we tried to plan the entire week for the bunch.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the time off. 

We end up going to The Amazing Pizza Machine at 7:35 PM and get “The Amazing Buffet” for the lot of us. We spend some coin on “credits” for their “Entertainment Center” and head for our seat.  This evening, they only had half of the buffet open as they weren’t pushing the numbers through mid week.  That’s fine.  They typically have the buffet duplicated on the other half  to accommodate the crowds.  So I go up and get a salad and we sit in one of the large rooms.  The Flintstones are on the big screen and we start eating.  I figured we would take our time.  Kids didn’t have school the next day and I wanted to unwind from work.  We sit there for a few minutes, and they announce that the buffet will be closing in 20 minutes.  I look over at my wife: “Uhhhh.  We just got here.  We should complain.”  I wasn’t worried.  I figured that was plenty of time to throw down some pizza then head out into the arcade to blow some stuff up.  HA!  I was wrong.  I went up to get some other food, and there were already in process of breaking down the buffet.  Not that I go to this sad excuse of a Valentino’s grand buffet for the food, but I paid for it, don’t put it up until it’s closed.  So, I quickly grab some macaroni and cheese, a piece of crappy pizza and go back to my chair.  As I sit down the bus-person starts grabbing plates off our table.  Part of which, I was still eating off of.  She leaned over our table as if to hurry us along because SHE wanted to go home.  I’m not happy about this, but wanting to have a fun night with the kids, I just let it roll.  I sent one of the kids for Ice cream (Which they hadn’t torn down yet) and dirtied a few more dishes out of spite.

So, dinner being done, we packed up our coats and went into the “Entertainment Center”.  I can’t tell you how much I blew on their redemption games, but I will tell you that they made their money off of my family and I that night.  One thing I did notice however, is that the staff seemed aloof –OR– like they had the desire to be shot.  You know that feeling: “Just shoot me!”  None of them had any interest in being there.  I have seen that place when it just opened.  Everyone had so much energy and excitement.  Every one of the staff seemed happy and energetic.  It was all crazy and new and they seemed to really care what happened.  Now?  Not so much.

I’m not a Valentino’s fan.  I think that their pizza stinks.  Their sauce is gross and their pasta needs something called flavor.  Don’t get me wrong, because they wouldn’t have as many locations as they do if everyone felt the way I do.  I am GLAD that Valentino’s opened The Amazing Pizza Machine.  It’s a great place for kids and families.  I just think that the food stinks and the service is lousy.  There is no pride in the employees anymore.

Plusses – It’s a great place for kids.  Their Salad Bar is always nice and clean.  They always have a decent variety of foods and the kids really seem to like it.

Minuses – The food stinks, the staff seems to hate life, there were several games that were broken and were run down.  The photo-booth didn’t work and I just didn’t feel it.

Overall Impression – Don’t get me wrong.  The place has character.  I am glad that they opened it in Millard.   I just wish that they would pay more attention to the quality of the food and the experience in general.  I fear that if they don’t, that they will lose the business.

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 11 Apr 2008 @ 02:38 AM

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 04 Mar 2008 @ 1:49 AM 

I have been doing Thai food now for about 4 years.  I have been to most every Thai place in Omaha or at least I think I have.  Well last night, I was driving through a parking lot at 144th and Center streets and spotted “Mai Thai”.  It’s not my normal Thai food haunt, but since “Taste of Thailand” is closed on Sundays, I figured I would give it a spin.  I was in the place back when it was “Chop Stix”.  Then it was cute and quaint, and I think my wife worked with a relative of the owners, so we went there to support their business.  That being said, I don’t know who owns it now.

We walked in and immediately you notice the dining room is small.  The tables are small… this is a tiny place.  We get seated and our waiter came over and took our drink orders and gave us water.  We ordered spring rolls and eggrolls.  After the appetizer order was placed, he came back with our drinks (soda in a can with glasses of ice) and then took our order: Garlic Noodles at a 1, Chicken Pad Thai at a 1, and a Beef Panang curry as hot as you can make it. They had a 1 – 5 star heat scale, I asked for a 7 or 8.  Nobody ever seems to take me seriously when I tell them to burn me and make me cry.  One reason I got from a waitress one time is that if it’s too hot, I will send it back and they will have to waste that food to make me something less spicy.  Most Midwesterners say they can “handle” the heat, but when it comes down to it, they’re pansies.  If you are going to say you can handle the heat, then “hang with the big dogs” and don’t sent it back because you’re a wimp.

Well, enough of my tangent rant on spicy food!  As we sat there, the warm air of the heater blew down on us as the slush fell from the sky.  Our waiter brought out our appetizers and we dug in.  The spring rolls were nice and fat.  Two large rolls, cut in half creating 4 pieces with a chili/peanut infused sauce.  The texture of the spring roll married together well with the zing of the sauce.  It was real good.  Then the egg-roll:  Delicate and small, 4 to an order.  They came with a sweet and sour chili sauce.  Everything was very fresh. 

Soon after we finished our appetizers, our main order came out.  My Panang Curry was very good.  It was a sweet curry with strips of cafir leaf, beef, and red and green bell peppers.  The presentation was an effective attempt at making the food look elegant.  I have 2 things about the dish I didn’t like.  It wasn’t hot enough.  I specifically asked for it to make me cry.  It was warm and had great flavor however.  The other thing I din’t like about it was that the cafir leaf strips.  They should have left the leaf whole.  The texture of the leaf was too hard for the rest of the dish.  If it was left whole, I could have avoided it.  I use cafir leaf myself in my cooking.  It’s easy enough to do. 

I am happy to say that I actually loved my daughter’s Pad Thai, as mild as it was more than my curry.  The flavor was incredible.  It wasn’t drenched in ketchup, but relied on other flavors to carry the dish.  The presentation was pleasing, but wasn’t over-crowded with colors. 

We didn’t do dessert… I was to full from finishing off my plate and my daughter’s as well.  This is a place I would recommend to anyone wanting Thai food and I will definitely make this a regular stop.

Pluses: Great food, intimate atmosphere, fantastic service.

Minuses: Man, when I say hot, hurt me! Canned soda.

Overall impression:  I think that the place had a great feel.  It was small and there was tons of to-go business.  I liked it.  I think they can improve a little, but for what they are trying to accomplish, I think they are doing well.  I think this place is a keeper.

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 04 Mar 2008 @ 01:49 AM

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