Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bob Evans, Erie, PA

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.

Meet and Greet
We were greeted at the door instantaneously by a hostess and whisked off to a nice table. Within a few minutes of being seated, coffee was served. The waitress did not take much time to take our order. But, waiting for it to arrive to our table, seemed to take about 15 minutes, which seemed a bit longer than what we are used to. (Photo left: Krishna Kumar- big size click here.)

Mise en Scène

Right off the interstate 90 highway on exit 24, you will find Bob Evans right next to the highway. This location is quite a bit bigger than the ones I have gone to in the past. It was big and spacious and at the time we showed up, about 7:30pm on a Sunday night, was not very busy.

Though the place was quite empty, I was surprised to find that many tables had not been cleared. I originally thought possibly they were to be cleared very soon; maybe the people had left just before we arrived. The tables had not been cleared throughout our stay there. Though hubby did not mind it because customers would not be seated near us (and the staff allowed him to charge his cell phone at a nearby table yet to be cleared), I thought it did not add to the cleanest environment that I usually find at Bob Evans.

** I did use the restrooms at this location. The restrooms were spacious, had a different kind of layout, and were very clean.

Choosing a Veggie Treat
It seems Bob Evans changes their menu on a yearly or sometimes a seasonal basis. Possibly menus are targeted to certain regions also. In my favorite location (Corning, NY), they had some veggie Chinese stir fry on the menu along with some pasta choices with non-meat based sauces. This was not the case at this location. There were no vegetarian dinner meals (though plenty of vegetarian side dishes), so I opted for a breakfast menu item. Again, with Bob Evans one can not go wrong in wanting Breakfast, as there are a multitude of choices. At my preferred Bob Evans location, they used to offer (saying used to as I have not been there in a long time) the ‘sausage gravy’ breakfast without sausage. That means the flour gravy is cooked separate from the sausage and the sausage is added on the top. But, it seems most locations (and restaurants that I have visited that have this menu item) do not make it this way anymore. If you want this menu item, it will have the sausage mixed into the gravy. It’s a shame as besides vegetarians, Muslims and some Hindus also do not eat sausage (as it is pork). I went for my second choice, eggs Florentine (without ham).

Overall, my suggestion is to add more vegetarian dinner items and to take the sausage out of the gravy!

Checking In

Once our food was served, our waitress did not come back to check on us until she bought the bill. Luckily we did not need anything. I also admit during the whole time we were eating, I was bothered they had not worked on clearing the surrounding tables. It actually is not appetising to see all those dirty place settings all around you.

See you later

After the bill was handed to us, we waited about 10 minutes for her to return and collect our payment. She did not come, so we went up and paid at the register. This may not have been the waitress’ fault as what I have noticed is that the habit of collecting the payment depends on the location. (Photo to right: Jennifer Kumar)

**Interestingly enough, the lady who took our payment at the register was very knowledgeable about Rodeos and seems to travel to many different places to see them.

**While sitting at the table, I read about Bob Evans. Till this visit, I did not realize Bob Evans was a real person. But, I was happy to find out he was and the restaurant is based on a business he used to run on his farm. In fact, there is a Bob Evans farmstead where they do events throughout the year.

$6-10 per person
We left $3.00
Star System: 3/5
(Could be improved by adding more vegetarian options and clearing off the tables. We love the Bob Evans coffee that is what keeps us coming back in addition to knowing something can be had from the breakfast menu.)

To find/Contact

Bob Evans Restaurant
8041 Peach St
Erie, PA 16509

(814) 864-5444‎
Other reviews at Google

tags: 3 stars, breakfast, diner, pennsylvania, restaurant review,

Red Newt Bistro, Hector, NY

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.


Meet and Greet

On Mother’s day we entered the door of Red Newt Bistro and were immediately sat at a table that we had made reservations for the day before. I suggest, however, if you want to attend Mother’s day brunch at this location to make your reservations as sooner than we did. We were lucky to get the last reservation of the day calling 24 hours in advance.

(Photo: Toasting to Mother’s Day at Red Newt)

Mise en Scène

Sitting down next to the window, we had a nice view of the greenery and valleys surrounding Seneca Lake. There is a winery attached to the eatery, and if we had come earlier than our reservation, a wine tasting may have been a nice activity before food. Seating is all tables with metal backed chairs. It is very comfortable. The dining area is tastefully and simply decorated. There was no overt dress code; we saw people dressed semi-formally to formally. I am also guessing since it was Sunday, some may have come straight from church to the brunch, arriving in their ‘Sunday best.’ Though the weather outside was warm, we opted to eat inside. Eating out on the verandah would be a nice touch for our next visit.

We did use the restrooms. They were clean and inviting.

Choosing a Veggie Tr

When planning our Finger Lakes Mother’s Day tour, I did a lot of research on finding a nice place that had a good balance of vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices (as my mom likes to eat meat). Red Newt not only had unique menu items I have not seen in any other eatery, but had good prices. I also thought it might be a nice touch to take my mom to a winery for a meal because there would be a choice of wines to try. Though we are not wine drinkers, after asking questions to our waitress about our preferences, we decided to try the Blue Newt White. The fruity, juicy taste was quite refreshing. Mothers on this day could also choose from one of three glasses of special brews. My mom decided to try the champagne.

Choosing a veggie meal was not difficult because of checking the internet the night before. However, as we had the last reservation of the day, the veggie dish I had been dreaming of all day – the handmade ravioli was all sold out. It was a sad moment, but while listening to the description of the fettuccini dish, my feelings about the ravioli were put on hold. The non-vegetarian dishes ordered by others were savored slowly. Since we did not get appetizers, we had plenty of room for desert, chocolate torte and almond roulade (pictured to the right). (See the slide show below for more photos.)

Checking In

Wait staff checked on us on regular intervals. Drinks were refilled as required. Service was friendly and helpful. Everything was great.

See you later

We were given the bill in a leisurely fashion and payment also collected leisurely. Since we were in no big hurry to pay and leave as we were enjoying ourselves here, it’s all the better!

Pay Scale
$21-25 per person (main course, meal and a bottle of wine)
Tips – 15% or more of bill because the service and everything is fabulous!
Star System 4.5/5

(I still am a bit upset my original menu choice was not available. I am also optimistic I can up this to 5/5 when we make the next visit.)

To find/Contact:
Red Newt Cellars Inc
3675 Tichenor Rd
Hector, NY 14841

(607) 546-4100
Get directions
More Reviews at Google

Photos in this post taken by Jennifer Kumar.

Tags: "red newt", "red newt cellars" "red newt bistro" "red newt winery" "finger lakes winery" "brunch watkins glen" "winery near watkins glen" "Seneca lake winery" "mothers day brunch" "red newt hector" "hector new york" "restaurant hector new york" "hector ny" "watkins glen ny" "red newt hector ny"

Ponderosa, Cortland, NY

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.

Meet and Greet
Upon entering, the host stands at the check in desk. Here they ask how many in the party and you pay at this point itself. Since you pay before you experience the service, you can decide to pay the tip at this point itself or leave cash on the table on your way out. If you opt for the second choice, remember to take cash with you. When we entered, there was a special promo going on. For each receipt from a fast food restaurant, the buffet would be only $5 (I think it’s usually $7-8). I handed over one Dunkin Donuts receipt, which covered the two of us at $5 each. Drinks are not included in the buffet price, so it was an extra couple dollars per person for the drinks.

Mise en Scène
Scenery inside is typical of any buffet restaurant or diner. It was clean and inviting. The buffet was well stocked and, for the most part, clean. Each buffet item had its own spoon. This can be an issue for me being a vegetarian because I don’t want meat mixed in with my items. But, this is a hazard of any buffet (outside most Indian restaurants) in U.S.

I did use the restrooms. They were clean and fresh. But, the people inside were quite interesting. Out of the four of us inside, I was the only one that washed hands with soap and water after using the toilet. Of the other three, two did not wash at all, but casually left the room, and the other lady stuck her fingertips under the water and wiped her wet hands on her dress! Yuck! It may seem good these ladies were not on staff, but these ladies would go back and take food from buffet, touching their hands to serving spoons, plates, etc. YUCK!!!

Choosing a Veggie Treat

I was impressed by the number of veggie items I could eat on the buffet. I used to visit this restaurant on a regular basis as a child with my family, and remember at that time a menu heavily meat based. Maybe I remember it that way because I was a meat eater back then. That being the case, they have updated the menu and there were enough non-meat items on the buffet that allowed me to make a few trips up to enjoy the American fare (ex. Macaroni and cheese, pasta, boiled veggies, buns, vegetable salads, etc.). It’s nice from time to time to eat such foods without a lot of spices, and a bland taste as compared to Indian foods. It cleans my palate!! There were also a few tasty deserts to enjoy after the meal.

Checking In

Wait staff refilled our drinks and cleared our plates in a timely way.

See you later

Because you pay when you enter, there is no need to wait for the bill or paying for the bill. On the way out the host at the front desk will thank you for coming.

Pay Scale

$6-10 per person (May be more without promo, or if you order off the menu.)
Tips 10% of bill seemed to be sufficient
Star System 2.5/5

(Entering this place would not be my first choice in that area. My first choice would be Garcia’s Mexican, followed by Applebee’s if it were for lunch. For me, most American buffets would get such a rating unless the service and cleanliness were of a lower standard only because for vegetarians like me who like a spicier fare, this was quite bland. And, being no fault of the establishment, but I did not like what I saw in the restrooms. It grossed me out.)

To find/Contact

Ponderosa Steakhouse
Route 13 and Lime Hollow Road
Cortland, NY 13045

(607) 756-2383
Directions to Ponderosa Steakhouses, Cortland, NY

**Noted that Google Maps seem to have Ponderosa in two locations in Cortland (location 1) (location 2), neither of these locations house Ponderosa. Wonder how that happened?

**This review is based on our visit in April 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

White Water Grill, Charleston, West Virginia

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.

Meet and Greet

We had come for a Sunday Brunch to meet some of my mom’s classmates for their 40th high school reunion. Because of this, we did not have to wait in line. This was a good thing because the wait seemed to be more than 30 minutes at 11am.
Soon as we sat down the waitress offered us a choice of menu or buffet and offered us a choice of drinks. Within minutes coffee was served.
Also, as more people were added to our party, the wait staff was efficient in adding on to our table by moving in more tables and chairs.

Mise en Scène

Nice and spacious eatery. Dress seemed to be casual to semi-formal. Many people were in jeans and t-shirts. The areas were very clean and in order. The buffet was also well stocked and very clean. We were seated in a small room off the side of the main dining hall. It was nice and private. Besides, our party (about 15 members) only few other couples were seated in this room, which had easy access to the buffet.

**We did not have to use restrooms, so no comment on that ambiance!

Choosing a Veggie Treat

Looking at the menu there would have been several interested veggie omelets (I do eat eggs). But, as the majority of us looked through the items on the buffet, we decided to have the buffet. The buffet had breakfast items (a create your own omelet bar, fresh made pancakes and waffles station, fresh fruit, cereal, milk, and other hot breakfast items), lunch items (pasta, plain steamed vegetables, soups, and a few meat dishes), and deserts. Overall, I was impressed by the number of vegetarian options on the buffet. It was easy to find something to eat, and eat a lot!

Checking In

Wait staff came by frequently to clear plates and offer more drinks as we emptied our glass. No complaints. In fact, it was the most courteous, efficient wait staff I have interacted with in a long time!

See you later

The wait staff had given us the bill as she noticed we were finishing up. The bill with the credit card was collected as soon as it was ready. We had left the tip on the table in cash, so I had altered the staff as the room was empty and wanted to assure the tips got into the right hands. Even on our way out, the line was going strong. People seem to really like this buffet. I can understand why this place is busy- (1) friendly and efficient wait staff, (2) clean buffet with a lot of choices, (3) clean atmosphere, (4) price is economical for variety.

Pay Scale
$6-10 per person ($7.95 Bruch for Kids – price includes drinks)
$11-15 per person ($14.95 Brunch for Adults – price includes drinks)
Tips: We left $10.00 (over 10% of total)
Star System 4/5

I would definitely go back again!

White Water GrTo find/contact
White Water Grill

200 Lee St E
, WV 25301

(304) 353-3636

Whitewater Grille at Marriott Website
**This eatery is located inside the Marriott hotel in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.
Directions TO White Water Grill

Other reviews at Google

Note: As of November 2008, I changed the rating from 5 to 4. As I have more experience in what we are looking for in rating vegetarian restaurants, I realize this can not be a five from my limited experience. We have not eaten here during any other meal time and had to choose off the menu. I am not sure what options there would have been for vegetarians off the menu.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bellacino’s, Charleston, West Virginia

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.

Meet and Greet

We were wandering around downtown Charleston late Saturday night due (1am!) to being on a trip there recently, and we were hungry. Being from Rochester, New York where things, especially downtown are closed late at night, we hadn’t expected to find eats. But, by accident as we turned down Capitol Street due to seeing a large crowd of youngsters walking around, we found this eatery. We immediately walked in. It was a walk up to the counter and order type of place. Once you ordered, you would sit down and they would either call your name and you’d walk up to the counter and pick up your food or they would bring it to your table. Though we were not greeted at the door by any staff, those who greeted us as the counter were friendly, helpful and answered all our questions sufficiently. As we waited for our meal, we noticed several others sitting around and waiting. Though the wait seemed to take forever (it must have been about 10 minutes), it was well worth it!

Mise en Scène

Upon walking in, we were happy to see it was well lit and clean. Yes, it was the only eatery in the area we could see that was open catering to the clubbers, so few drunks came it. That’s meant to happen, I suppose. But most of the people were lively, friendly and not drunk! Of course, because of this, the dress code is comfy and casual. No need for hi-fi dressing here!

**We did not have to use restrooms, so no comment on that ambiance!

Choosing a Veggie Treat

There were several vegetarian options on the menu- including pizza, cold subs, and toasted subs. (Here they called subs, grinders.) Basically, in these choices you get the same fillings but either on pizza or in bread toasted or untoasted. They did have a taco salad and taco toasted sub, but they had beef on it – no beans. I think they could consider adding refried beans or soyrizo (vegetarian chorizo) so vegetarians can enjoy this option.

Actually we loved the presentation of the sub. The sub was packed in a cardboard box that seemed to be eco-friendly. Once the box was open, it folded fully open, flat. The sub itself was amazing. “It was simple and tasty.” Vegetables were sliced thin, but were still crunchy. The bread was toasted on the outside, buttered on the inside but the bread was soft on the inside. This is what we liked. In fact, we had not expected our first order (sub and fries) to be as good as up to this point food had not been a highlight. But, because it was so amazing and tasty, we stayed longer and ordered an additional one!

Checking In

Because this was not a restaurant where you needed to be waited on, no comments required.

See you later

We paid at the counter, which makes it easy to get up and leave as soon as you’re done eating. The lady who waited on us was standing at the door when we walked out and she said bye to us.

Pay Scale: $5-10 per person

Tips: Not required

Star System: 4/5

(If we were meat eaters, I would have given 4.5 or 5 as the price was economical, but the veggie choices were limited.)

To find/Contact

218 Capitol St
Charleston, WV 25301

(304) 343-0911‎
Directions to Bellacino's

Other reviews at Google.

Photos in this post taken by Jennifer Kumar.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ambrosia, Kerala, India

Restaurant Review by Jennifer Kumar.

(We have made three trips to Trivandum in the last three years. On each trip, we have eaten at Ambrosia fast food restaurant in the GC Technomall at the entrance of Technopark, Trivandum (Kerala State, India).

Unlike the restaurants situated inside the Technopark only accessible by employees of offices in Technopark that have been short listed for stale and unhygienic foods (source), Ambrosia has a different standard. We have never had a problem eating there, in fact it appears to be one of the cleanest establishments we have eaten at.

This is one of the very few restaurants in Trivandrum that serves non-Indian food. In fact, it may even be hard to find non-South Indian food in Trivandum, but non-Indian food found all together is a rare find. (In fact if you have a list of any other non-Indian hotels outside Technopark, besides Cafe Coffee Day in Ginger, let me know.) So in addition to the Subway, situated on the same mall area, Ambrosia serves "American" style fast food, though not quite McDonald's, you can get pizzas, chicken burgers, fish burgers, veggie burgers and Indian style veggie burgers (tikka, etc.). It seems according to their website, that the menu I am used to at Technopark may be an abbreviated menu of their main branch (where ever that is, or possibly each branch has different variations of the menu), because the website mentions hamburger (beef burger) and others we did not remember seeing at Technopark.

Though this restaurant is cheap if you're going there on holiday from U.S., U.K. or other places with a good exchange rate, for most Indians this place is considered not only exotic (because of menu options) but also expensive. To get an idea of what a local eatery may charge, I have reviewed a Kochi restaurant, Sree Krishna Cafe, which should not be too different from local eateries in Trivandrum, three hours north of Trivandrum.

In any case, this place is a must stop for westerners in Trivandum pining for some sandwiches, fries, and other western fast foods. Me being a vegetarian, I had a veggie sandwich and french fries. I wanted the fried mushrooms, but it seems if you go past a certain time of day not all options are available. As they sell out on a daily basis, they're out!!

Ambrosia also has a nice bakery section, which is stocked based on day. I can't review many choices on the bakery menu, though I have had something I think they call 'devil's food cake'. Like the namesake found in U.S., it is a chocolate cake, but unlike the U.S. namesake, it is more of a bitter chocolate taste, hence not as sweet as the American counterpart. Personally, I prefer the Ambrosia devil's food over American counterparts.

Overall, I give this eatery high marks. The only improvement I can suggest is to speed up the making of the foods. Interestingly on our most recent visit (May 2008), when I ordered veggie sandwiches (made of untoasted bread, spread with butter, and filled with raw tomato and cucumber slices) it took them longer to make these sandwiches than the hot foods- pizzas and burgers!!

G C Technomall,
Technopark, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)
Kerala, India
Phone: 0471 3043311, 3043322.