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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Portland, OR: Friendly Staff, Good Food, But Pre-Fab Taco Shells Are A Non-Starter

La Isla Bonita
302 NE 122nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97230
Northeast Portland, Hazelwood
Phone number: (503) 252-3460
Prices: $$$$

I spotted this colorful place out of the corner of my eye and decided it might be worth a try. The interior is colorful and warm as was the greeting I received from the hostess. Exiting right to use the little boy's room to freshen up after a long day on the golf course, a basket of chips, salsa, and a small bowl of chili con carne was waiting for me when I returned to the table.
In accordance with my M.O., I ordered the basics on my first visit because, once again, if they cannot get tacos, enchiladas, and guacamole right, I will not be going back. I also ordered a margarita even though the prices are not listed on the menu (a pet peeve) and my server had no idea how much they cost ($6.75 it turns out).
The margarita was of a decent size and tasty, but without much punch if you catch my drift. The chips were made in house as was the salsa, a good sign over the store bought variety you see at many places. The chili dip was a nice touch and reminded me of my days stationed in San Antonio where Tex-Mex is king and nearly everything is smothered in chili con carne (tamales, enchiladas, etc.). Maybe the reviewers who claimed this is a Tex-Mex restaurant were actually right this time!
The $10 special advertised on the front window would tell the tale with a cheese and onion enchilada, two shredded beef tacos, rice and beans. Upo arrival, I was deeply disappointed when I saw pet peeve #2 - pre-fab taco shells - a non-starter for any decent Mexican restaurant. If they cannot take the time to fry their own taco shells, it is usually game over in my book. The shredded beef was not drained properly, so the shells quickly became soggy and impossible to eat if I waited much longer, so I scooped some of the ample guacamole inside, which was pretty good by the way and a great value at just $3.95. The enchilada was not smothered in chili as I expected, but their was plenty of cheese and diced onion inside and the red chili sauce was well done. The refried beans were flavorful, but the rice was nondescript and a bit dry.
Once again, a business without a website, which appeared to be the case here, is beyond comprehension in 2017. There is no website link on Yelp and their business card was also void of one, but when I searched Facebook, I found not just a Facebook page but their unadvertised website as well. 
The service was excellent, the ambiance pleasing, and the food actually very good except for the soggy pre-fab taco shells, a fact which prohibits me from assigning more than 6 Bombs (3 Stars) ...
CombatCritic Gives La Isla Bonita 6 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

Six Bombs Equates To:

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Read Chris S.'s review of La Isla Bonita on Yelp

La Isla Bonita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

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Title: Portland, OR: Friendly Staff, Good Food, But Pre-Fab Taco Shells Are A Non-Starter

Key Words: La Isla Bonita, la, isla, bonita, Mexican, taco, tacos, Portland, OR, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: G2G = "Good To Go"

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vancouver, WA: A Little Italy Goes A Long Way In Downtown Vancouver

Little Italy’s Trattoria
901 Washington Street
Vancouver, WA 98660
Phone: (360) 737-2363
Facebook: LittleItalysTrattoria
Prices: $$$$

The first time my wife and I tried to eat here (last November), they were closed (during business hours) for renovations. The second time, they were open but out of veal, the dish I drove all the way across state lines to order. This review incorporates visits #2 and #3.
The place has the feel of an old, historic restaurant as you enter, but I was seated in the bar in the back which has recently been renovated from what I understand. There is another large dining room in between the two. The bar is dark and modern, and the drinks (based on what I saw on the menu) reasonable.
On Visit #2, the IPA and other drafts were $3.75 on the drink menu I received, so I ordered one to start, then another with my entree. When I was told they were out of veal after a busier than expected 4th of July weekend, I almost left, but was famished, so I ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese ($12) which was not bad. Most meals come with salad and garlic bread, a nice touch, my Caesar (or garden salad if you choose) being very good and the two pieces of garlic bread also very tasty. The Bolognese was a bit dry and lacked zest, nothing that some grated parmesan could not fix, making it much more flavorful.
I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding the veal, so my friend and I returned the following Sunday for Visit #3. We ordered a bottle of Chianti ($20), a decent wine and value. My friend ordered a spaghetti dish topped with 5-6 shrimp tossed in an olive oil, garlic and lemon sauce which looked good, but was "nothing special" according to him. I finally got to try the Vitello (veal) Parmigiana ($19), an overly thick chop, not a cotoletta (cutlet) as is normally the case, buried under quite a bit of sauce and melted cheese that had been broiled a tad too long. Had the the same piece of veal been pounded out into a thin cutlet then breaded and fried, it would have appeared to be a much larger portion, perceived as a better value and a more appropriate presentation. I had Bolognese on the spaghetti once again with the same result as Visit #1. The marinara on the veal was actually pretty good.
When the check arrived on Visit #2, the IPAs were $5 instead of $3.75, so I asked why. "Oh, that's the Grand Opening menu ... You shouldn't have received that menu.", I was told. The bartender (and my server), a relative of the owners, quickly fixed the error and I paid the bill.
I really want to like this place because it would make a great new regular go-to spot for Italian now that we live in Portland. The owners and staff are all extremely nice, the environment a bit cheesy but welcoming, the prices relatively fair, and the food good, but not great. Saucier sauces, thinner veal, and a bit more seasoning would improve the experience, but if they have been using the same recipes (Neapolitan I was told) for 14 years, seeing change any time soon may be a pipedream. I have not found a decent, authentic, home-style, family Italian restaurant in the Portland area yet, having seen mostly foo-foo hangouts with tiny plates and big prices and very few that serve veal, a necessity in any Italian restaurant I am going to frequent.

CombatCritic Gives Little Italy's Trattoria 5 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

Five Bombs Equates To:


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Read Chris S.'s review of Little Italy's Trattoria on Yelp


Little Italy's Trattoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Vancouver, WA: A Little Italy Goes A Long Way In Downtown Vancouver

Key Words: CombatCritic, Italian, Italy, little, little Italy, Little Italy's Trattoria, menu, pasta, pizza, Portland, restaurant, review, trattoria, travel, TravelValue, value, Vancouver, WA, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = "Continue Mission"

Portland, OR: Mama Mia - Best Italian West Of The Willamette!

Mama Mia Trattoria
439 SW 2nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Southwest Portland, Downtown
Phone number (503) 295-6464
Prices: $$$$
Mama Mia, that's one spicy meatball! Actually, it was the tomato sauce accompanying the complimentary Calamari (normally $12.95) that was spicy, having added a sprinkling of chili flakes on top before serving. As a new member of their "VIP Club", we got the royal treatment, including the free appetizer and free garlic bread (on every visit). I also received a $15 off coupon for our first visit.

The corner restaurant hits you in the face as you cross the SE Morrison Bridge into downtown from the east. There is no free parking or validation here, so pay $2/hour on the street, more in a lot, or arrive after 7pm as we did to park on the street for free. The old corner building (early 1900s) has high ceilings and an open feeling. The decor is tasteful, but not "obviously" Italian in any way, shape or form, more like a high end steak house than a trattoria.
Our server, Kelly, was prompt, efficient and courteous from the get-go. She dropped off the surprise calamari, then the garlic bread, and after bringing my son the Veal Parmigiana instead of the Veal Scallopine all Marsala ($25.95) he had ordered, told him to taste it and take it home while they prepared his marsala. The calamari was good, although the breading could have been crispier and it was a tad greasy, but we barely made a dent because my son is not a seafood lover and I did not want to fill up before my entree arrived.

I had the Veal Parmesan ($25.95), two decent size cutlets breaded, fried and topped with marinara and their "house made" mozzarella accompanied by a small bowl of linguini with marinara sauce (soup or vegetable can be substituted for pasta). The veal was the best I have had in a while and the portion size reasonable considering the price. A dinner salad and some bread would be inexpensive additions to the entrees, making them seem like a better value although $26 for a nice veal dish is not unreasonable. I tasted my son's Veal Marsala which was also a decent size portion as well as being one of the best marsalas I have tasted in recent memory, thick and rich ... HOOAH!
In the end, we had the calamari ($12.95), an order of garlic bread ($4.95) two veal parmesans ($51.90), a veal marsala ($25.95), nearly $100 worth of food for $36.90 (after the $15 coupon was deducted) plus a healthy $15 tip for Kelly, bringing the total to a whopping $52 ... what a bahgain!

We will not get free calamari, an extra meal, or $15 off every time we come, but members of their VIP Club do get free garlic bread every visit as well as other discounts and offers throughout the year. So far, this is the best Italian restaurant I have tried (out of three) and expect to be back soon, bringing my Italian born better half next time. If she gives them her seal of approval, a massive compliment, I will note it here first.
You may ask why I do not give my top rating, so let me briefly clarify. My ratings are based on value, bang-for-the-buck, taking price, quality, preparation, ambience, service and other key factors into account. To receive 10 Bombs Out Of 10, the meal, service, decor, and price must be impeccable, flawless, and the best value money can buy. To get 9 Bombs, one or two minor flaws are normally noted, but otherwise the experience is top-notch. Unlike many so called critics, I do not throw around 9s and 10s (5 Stars on Yelp) like candy, so when you see a rating that high, you can bet your booty that you will be pleased as punch. In order to improve their rating, I would recommend the following:

1. Validate parking
2. Increase the temperature on the deep fryer (or do not let it sit too long before serving) for crispier calamari
3. Include a small dinner salad and bread with every entree
4. Make the side of pasta accompanying entrees a little bit larger
5. Put ice in the water or cool it before serving - room temperature water is a bummer

CombatCritic Gives Mama Mia Trattoria 8 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

Eight Bombs Equates To:
Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)


Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!


... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Read Chris S.'s review of Mama Mia Trattoria on Yelp

Mama Mia Trattoria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Portland, OR: Mama Mia - Best Italian West Of The Willamette!

Key Words: Mama Mia Trattoria, mama mia, mama, mia, trattoria, Portland, downtown, Italian, veal, Italy, Oregon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: WTFO! = "What-The-Fuck ... Over!"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Eureka, CA: The Potatoes Weren't The Only Thing Stuf't By The End Of The Night

Stuf't Potato
3220 South Broadway, Suite 8
Eureka, CA 95501
Phone number (707) 444-6200
Website: stuftpotato.com
Prices: $$$$

The restaurant is simple, a nice little place in a strip mall near the southern edge of town. The service is friendly and efficient, and the food made to order. The chef readily agreed to substitute chicken with pork for the schnitzel cordon bleu ($17.95), but they would have received 7-8 Bombs Out Of 10 had they fulfilled my request for a little Hunter sauce (gravy) with the cordon bleu I ordered. When a customer makes a request, it should be fulfilled. It's not that hard to whip up a little gravy, particularly when you are pan frying the schnitzel anyway.

My wife had the Fried Spätzel ($13.95), a huge skillet full of spätzel, ham, Gruyere cheese, saüerkraut, and fried onions all mixed together. It was a lot of food, very unique, and quite good. Fresh bread and a cream cheese spread with spices accompanied the meals.
As I mentioned, I had the schnitzel (pork) cordon bleu with fried potatoes and sweet and sour red cabbage. The dinner came with soup or salad and bread, so I ordered the beef goulash soup which was a bit greasy, as it should be, but good. The potatoes were good, the cabbage OK (I'm not a huge fan of German red cabbage), and the cordon bleu very well prepared except for the fact that it was extremely dry. A little hunter sauce (mushroom gravy) would have rounded out the dish quite nicely, but it was not meant to be.
The beer comes in bottles, nothing on tap, and is a bit pricy ($5.25-$5.95) for a 12-16 ounce bottle of beer. The house wine is $5.25 a glass and the glass was quite generous, a much better value than the beer. We enjoyed our meal and the chef obviously knows how to prepare German food, but a little more flexibility, not an easy thing for many Germans (I'm half German, so I know all too well), would have gone a long way.

CombatCritic Gives Stuft Potato 6 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!
Six Bombs Equates To:


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Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)


Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!



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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Read Chris S.'s review of Stuft Potato on Yelp

Title: Eureka, CA: The Potatoes Weren't The Only Thing Stuf't By The End Of The Night

Key Words: Stuf't Potato, stuf't, stuffed, potato, potatoes, German, schnitzel, Eureka, California, beer, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, business, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: G2G = "Good To Go"

Portland, OR: Live Music, Cheap Food And Drinks - HOOAH!

Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge
4830 NE 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97218
Northeast Portland, Cully
Phone number (503) 287-5800
Website: thespareroompdx.com
Prices: $$$$

Cheap drinks (Jim Beam and Coke - $3 - All Day/Every Day), food (ample menu and specials), and music (live/DJ/karaoke/free/cover) ... what more could you ask for!

Around the corner from my new temporary digs, I stopped by on Thursday night for a couple drinks and free, live music, unfortunately country on this night, but beggars can't be choosers. The bartender/hostess/server was very nice, well dressed, attractive and, most important, friendly. She also pours a strong drink ... HOOAH!

I did not stay long because I can only handle country in short bursts, but will return soon for one of their dinner specials (surf and turf, prime rib, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, etc.) and, hopefully, some rock and roll, jazz, or blues. The place is big and dark with an old fashioned feel, not extravagant and not seedy, just right. Two bars and dance floors in two adjoining big rooms with other spaces which I did not have a chance to explore. They also have gambling-type machines at the bar although I neither know Oregon's gambling laws nor if these machines are for used betting.

Most people seemed to know each other, but other than the bartender/server, nobody said a word to me or even looked like they wanted to although hugs abounded and conversations surrounded me. Not the welcome I would have liked, but as the new kid on the block, I expected little else.

CombatCritic Gives Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge An Initial 7 Bombs Out Of 10 With Room To Grow ... More Bombs Are Better!



Seven Bombs Equates To:
Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17 - 650,000+ Views A Year

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)


Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie - Over  1,890,733 Review And Photo Views

View my food journey on Zomato!



... And Don't Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Read Chris S.'s review of Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge on Yelp

Title: Portland, OR: Live Music, Cheap Food And Drinks - HOOAH!

Key Words: Spare Room Restaurant and Lounge, spare, room, lounge, bar, music, live, karaoke, Portland, Oregon, NE, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"