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
 21 Aug 2007 @ 9:58 PM 

Lone Star Steak House (144th between L. and Center)

I love steak.

I think that the cow was placed on earth by some divine being for the pleasure of eating it. It serves absolutely no other purpose. When was it you saw a wild cow? I’ve never even heard of one. The things have been domesticated for centuries and through selective breeding, have become quite the little treasure. That being said, I like to have myself a good cut of meat every now and again.

I like my meat (believe it or not) between rare and medium rare. I believe that the middle should be red, but warm to hot. The center shouldn’t be cooked, but at least make sure the darn thing is very warm. I can’t tell you how many times I order it and it comes out ice cold in the middle. That turns my stomach. Some snot-nosed kid is back there screwing up perfectly good beef. More often than not, I order Medium Rare anymore because most “cooks” *insert derogatory word* it up.

So, this past week, we were driving around (because the family never knows what it wants to eat and therefore can’t ever make up their mind) and I ended up at Lone Star Steak House. We went in and were immediately seated by the hostess. It wasn’t busy and… it never is as a matter of fact. *ponders* Anyway, we sit down, and the waiter comes over. He immediately starts to complain about the last table he had and how they were terrible. He hoped that we were not like his last table where he could hardly wait to get away from. (Right there, I knew that this would be a bad experience!) So after that, he meanders off to go and get our drinks. *tic tic tic tic* (Buddy, you’re killing me, minute by minute… my life is sucked away slowly…..) He returns with our drinks. He takes our order then disappears. Time goes by… More time goes by… and someone else brings us our appetizers. Not too keen on that, but that’s how it works… at least I have food. It’s their version of an onion flower. It’s good, and has some kick in the sauce… which makes you want to drink something… which is now out for everyone at the table. So we sit there, and sit there… and sit there… Nothing. Now enter two wait staff. They plop down at the table next to us. (We’re in the middle of the dining room, next to the door to the kitchen.) The waitresses begin to wrap silverware. This is a Saturday night at about 7:30. It should be busy (but it isn’t). They start chatting loudly about how hard it is working there. They look over at our table (I watch this sort of thing.), then proceed to tell our waiter that he has to “go do glasses” just before he gets to our table.

So off he goes…. *Tic tic tic tic…..* There goes more of my life… My children are growing up in front of me… I watch, as in back, my waiter is moving all sorts of heavy stuff. That’s nice. They guy makes half minimum wage and then tips on top of it. One would think that he might want to bust his butt to help us; So not the case. So we’re sitting for another 5 minutes (this after the 20 since we got our appetizers) and some short lady comes out with plates that are supposed to resemble salad. They’ve got wilted lettuce, a wad of shredded cheese, and a pile of diced tomatoes. On top of all that?
That’s right! A lake of ranch dressing! *ding ding ding!*

So a few minutes after that, he comes out of the kitchen, and happens to notice that all of our drinks and water are empty. He looks at my wife and I and says: “Oh, I guess you’re thirsty.” I think I could feel the veins popping out the side of my head. Off he goes…. Where is anyone’s guess. I have now been there over an hour and have YET to have my meal. I’m getting a little angry at this point and wonder how much worse he must have been to anger his previous table to the point where they were “hellish”. I can really see why they were angry. Me? Mister Polite? Yeah… I was reaching the end of my rope.

So after a few more minutes of screwing around doing whatever it was he was doing, he finally shows up with more drinks. He looks at my wife and I and informs us that our food should be ready now and that he’s going to go get it. *twitch* Ya think?

So he goes back into the kitchen and comes out with our dinner…

I order the Texas Ribeye with “extra spices” at a Med-Rare….

He stands there after handing us all plates “Please cut into your meat so we can make sure it is all cooked correctly.” I almost blew up… but being Mr. Polite… I do it. It’s cooked more or less right. My wife and I give him the nod and off he goes.

I dig in.

The steak was cooked close to what I ordered, and it had great flavor. My wife ordered a smaller sirloin and wasn’t too terribly impressed with hers. She did however steal some of mine. She liked it better than hers. Hers wasn’t bad, but it was just “a steak”. I got a bakes sweet potato, with just regular butter (They tend to put sugar and stuff on it) and steamed veggies. It was good. The food was real good.

That has typically been the case when I go to Lone Star. The food is good but the service stinks and takes forever. It seemed like there was a bunch of people standing around doing nothing, while people, such as our waiter) were doing all the heavy labor in the kitchen. Perhaps if the staff at Lone Star would spend less time gabbing with each other, and more time actually taking care of their customers, they would have more customers.

Nothing makes me madder than bad service.

Overall impression: Food took forever; the waiter kept getting side tracked and should have spent more time taking care of his tables. The staff seemed to stand around, and it took forever to get our food. Our food however was great (except the salad) and it was hot and flavorful. The only saving grace was the food.

Plusses: Great food, nice atmosphere

Minuses: Slow and inattentive wait staff, slow food, slow slow slow slow…

~The Omaha Critic

Posted By: The Omaha Critic
Last Edit: 22 Aug 2007 @ 03:34 AM

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