Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Azars-Ghent Location-While Alex is away, Laine will play

I would usually not review a Norfolk restaurant without my sidekick, Alex. However, she has forever banned Azars from her list of places to go. I know what you are thinking. Forever? As in, no chance of ever happening again? Take my word on this one. It ain't happening....So, her plane has barely left the ground as she goes off on holiday and I am on my way to Azars for lunch with Brianna*. (Forgive me, Alex!)

Azars specializes in Mediterranean foods and Natural foods, offering a good variety of vegetarian and vegan options for those interested. I started going to the Virginia Beach location of Azars back in the 90's and I still prefer the beach location. I like the ambiance of the smaller place, oddly located on a random side street off Bonney Road. The Ghent locale is bigger and fancier, but not necessarily better. We locals know it can be a pain to park in Ghent, and Azars is no exception. They have about 6 slots out front. Once those are full (they always are) you are on your own to find a spot combat style, up and down 20th Street or hoping you won't get towed from a nearby competitors lot. Once inside, you will see that this is a market and restaurant combined. The market is fairly small, stocking some Mediterranean cuisine staples and Azars own food line. Unlike the beach location where you are seated and waited upon, this is a order and get-it-yourself place. There is usually a line a couple people deep at the register. The lunch menu is fairly extensive covering appetizers, soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, pizza, platters, etc. There is a kids menu available upon request. I was in the mod for a cup of soup, as the weather has been turning toward crisp fall days. They only offer soup by the bowl, no cups, so I passed. Brianna and I shared a Spanakopita appetizer, I ordered a Baba Ghanouj wrap and Brianna a Chicken Salad wrap. After you place your order they hand you a buzzer, your empty drink cup and send you out to wait.

SIDEBAR-There is a tip jar at the register. This is a pet peeve of mine. (You are learning that I have more than one pet peeve by now.) Why are they asking me to tip them? How many of you loyal readers have tip jars on your desk at work, or in the classroom where you teach, or the emergency room where you work? If someone waits on my table and serves me, or mixes my drink at a bar, I will leave a nice tip. Even if they do a bad job serving me, I will still leave a tip. I will NOT leave a tip for someone taking my order at a register. The person they work for should be paying them. These cashiers should either ask the boss for a raise, or find another job somewhere else making more money. Lose the jar asking me if I am "Feeling Tipsy". From the looks of the empty jar, no one is feeling it.

I've had the Spanakopita here before, and I think it has improved. This traditional Greek appetizer, is comprised of a layered pastry filled with spinach, feta cheese, onions, and olive oil. Previously I found theirs to be slightly undercooked, and a bit chewy. Today, the filo pastry was cooked enough to still flake, but not overdone and hard. These are individually cooked pieces, not cut from a large pan as the menu photo would lead you to believe. A very tasty way to start. The sandwich wraps are a rolled and toasted pita which ends up being rather crispy in the toasting process. I like this texture, but can see where the those unacquainted with it may be expecting the typical soft wrap. A whole wrap portion is rather large, comprising of two pieces about 5-6 inches long each. There are half wrap options for those with a smaller appetite, or wanting to pair it with soup. Baba Ghanouj is primarily grilled eggplant and tahini. It was great. Brianna also liked her Chicken Salad wrap, taking half of it home in the doggie bag with the Baklava she could not resist.

Azars has a patio for outdoor dining on warmer days, although sitting practically on the street of Colley Avenue is not very aesthetic to me. Gas fumes and hummus are not a natural pairing. Today's lunch came out fairly quickly, and the place was about 3/4 full. One negative about Azars is that they will charge you for special orders. No exception. You want to switch it up, add something, delete something, or perhaps substitute items? You will pay. Hmmm, could this be why Alex doesn't like Azars? The world may never know! As for me, overall I like Azars and will be back.


Azars of Ghent is located at 2000 Colley Avenue. To view hours of operation and menus online click here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Zelicks Cafe-Just "Okay"

World Trade Center, Norfolk, Virginia

Laine drew Zelicks from the magic envelope last week.  We did not have a lot of user reviews to go on, as only two people we know have been to the cafe.  Not always a bad thing, as we like to venture to new spots as unbiased as possible.  The owner is super friendly and is on first name basis with many of the customers (we noticed this today and last week when we did some minor reconnaissance to pick up the menu).  Recon is always important.  Located in the World Trade Center, Zelicks is a convenient spot for the business folks that frequent the café, especially those with little time to spare.  Let me start with the drink.  Zelicks has diet Dr. Pepper, a huge weakness for me.  After spying that, I caved and ordered the large drink which is a small tub of soda and for a mere $1.58.  DEAL, particularly when Laine and I have paid $3 for sodas and teas…8oz for $3 at that.  Transgress…back to our meal.  I ordered the smoked turkey and walnut salad.  Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, mozzarella cheese, smoked turkey, croutons, walnuts and raisins.  I am scared of fruit salad dressings so instead of the raspberry, I chose the Vidalia onion variety. The croutons were slightly overdone, but other than that, the salad was good.  This isn't a fancy meal, but it is a quick and effortless meal.  The café was not crowded at noon when we arrived.  I have a feeling, there are a lot of take-outs.  I did spot a few people eating the pizzas and they looked delicious.  Homemade delicious and a very generous portion.  Everything is quite reasonable and ranges from $4.25 for a grilled cheese to $6.99 for a club sandwich.  This seems like the kind of place that has excellent egg, chicken or tuna salad, all offered on the menu.  The homemade desserts and breakfast selections looked awfully good as well.  There are weekly specials on a large blackboard when you walk in.  Laine and I kept discussing adding variety to our lunch locales and Zelicks has made the cut.

Perhaps Alex liked Zelicks a tiny bit more that I did? I’d say it was just “okay”. Not really anything I can get too excited about, nor am I in any rush to hurry back. The pizzas did look pretty good, and appeared to be what the majority of the customers were ordering. The folks that work there seem like a nice bunch, and I imagine that if I worked in the WTC I’d probably go there on rainy days or days I didn’t feel like venturing out …which are few and far between. Getting out of the office at least once a day re-energizes me. I’d go there again if Alex picked it, but it won’t be one of my selections. I ordered the chicken and grape salad. My croutons were BURNT, not slightly overdone. The carrots were cut the in huge pieces. Did you ever try to cut a carrot gracefully using a plastic knife? By gracefully, I mean keeping the carrot in your plate, rather than sending it soaring across the table. I’d score that an 8 on a difficulty scale of 1-10, 10 being impossible.

Zelicks Cafe is located in the World Trade Center in Downtown Norfolk and is open Monday-Friday 8am-3pm. Zelicks also offers catering for businesses, in addition to evening and weekend events.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Manfood Reigns at Bravo - and Alex Likes It! Town Center, Virginia Beach

Bravo Cucina Italiana Logo

Marietta invited me to have dinner with her family and Anthony Saturday evening. We met at Bravo at Town Center. I had been once before for lunch and remembered enjoying my meal, but that was some time ago. I tend to stick around Downtown Norfolk and Ghent, so it was nice to step out of the box for a change (I have a hard time thinking outside the box). There was a 30-minute delay for our seating, which was irritating but the manager made up for it by bringing our party two appetizer towers on the house. This type of gesture tends to cure any ill feelings that may linger. Marietta and I split the lasagna carnevale (we were still recovering from lunch), Anthony also had the lasagna (and was playfully mad that we did not send him the memo about splitting a dish) and Beau ordered the chicken marsala. Others ordered eggplant parmesan, a pizza and two scallop entrees. Everyone seemed pleased. The lasagna was nothing less than fantastic. Anthony was nice enough to give me his left over lasagna (it is a HUGE portion) since I do not ever have food in my refrigerator. Sad and unbelievable to some, but alas, it is true. I do not enjoy cooking and don’t see myself starting to like it anytime soon. A ‘look what I screwed up cooking’ blog does not sound like a good time to me. We left happy and it was great to see Marietta’s family. If in the Town Center area, I would venture to Bravo again.


Bravo is open for lunch and dinner daily and is located at the Virginia Beach Town Center.


Gordon Biersch - Town Center, Virginia Beach

Gordon Biersch Exterior, Virginia Beach Restaurant and Brewery

Marietta, one of my great friends, was in town with her fiancé, Beau and wonderful friend, Anthony. After introducing them to Bobbywood and the Winehouse on Friday evening, I joined them for lunch and dinner on Saturday. We met at Gordon Biersch to watch the South Carolina v. Kentucky football game and grab lunch. I ordered the grilled chicken cashew salad with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, cashews and feta cheese with the Märzen vinaigrette. Of course, I had to switch the artichoke hearts with avocado, but the waitress did not seem to mind. Marietta and Anthony had the chicken casear salad and Beau had the shrimp and chicken potstickers and the blackened mahi-mahi wrap. We were all happy with our choices and the guys were able to easily watch the game. I was busy people watching since I am easily distracted from TV.

Laine and I usually post separate reviews for the restaurants we visit, but I must include this group of four’s trip to the Cheesecake Factory at Town Center. Trouble. Beau and I are all about dessert, and this seemed like a great use of time before we had to all change for dinner. I ordered the dolce de leche caramel cheesecake, Anthony the white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake, Beau the chocolate tuxedo cream cheesecake and Marietta the chocolate Oreo mudslide cheesecake. Beau and I were in heaven and Marietta was happy with her choice. Anthony felt ill from sugar-intoxication, but I am convinced it wasn’t the amount of sugar as he claimed (come on, sugar is good for you!), but rather his caramel royale macchiato drink, which rivaled a Starbucks creation, on top of the cheesecake. You have to work up to that much sugar. Like a kid let loose in a candy store, I had enough energy to run home to Norfolk (don’t worry, I realized this might be a bad idea). My favorite Charlestonians are lucky I didn’t start doing laps around the restaurant. Laine and I will add a full review of the Cheesecake Factory at a later date, but I had to include these desserts because they were SO DARN GOOD.


Gordon Biersch and the Cheesecake Factory have many locations and are open daily for lunch and dinner.

www.gordonbiersch.com and www.cheesecakefactory.com

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bobbywood - Downtown Norfolk

Bobbywood, Norfolk Restaurant

Bobbywood is, by far, my favorite restaurant in the Hampton Roads area (Tidewater, for you natives). Everything about dining at Bobbywood is extraordinary. The menu has a number of appetizers, soups, salads and a slew of main courses. Appetizers include an Asian-inspired calamari, a crab salad topped with grilled shrimp, foie gras and pot stickers. The famous oyster stew is a regular in the soup selections and there is always a soup of the day. Duck, lamb, salmon, tuna, crab cakes, free-range chicken, filet mignon and meatloaf are some of the main course selections. The restaurant has a modern/post-modern design with the perfect lighting for fine dining. The kitchen is exposed so guests can watch the masterminds work their magic. The bar is also a nice spot, whether you are stopping by for a drink or having a complete meal. Another note on the bar, there is a happy hour Tuesdays-Fridays 5-6:30pm. The starters, soups and salads are half off, in addition to a variety of drink specials.
Last Friday, Leigh, Sasha and I opted for Bobbywood before the opera. We decided to dine at the bar, since we had a time constraint. It is also always fun to chat with Rob, the bartender. We started with the Chop Chop Greek salad. The display was as exciting as the taste. The greens are to one side of the dish and the tapenade, cucumbers, tomatoes and feta are layered in a circular fashion on the opposite side of the plate. The feta in this salad was certainly the best we have had. Butternut squash soup was one of the specials and I just had to try it. Wonderful.
Leigh and Sasha were torn between the parmesan-encrusted rockfish special and the meatloaf and in the end both ordered the latter, which came with a large helping of mashed potatoes and spinach. What a good decision. I must make one note, this is a very large portion, so you may have a doggy bag to take home, but it will be a nice treat the next day! Because it is delicious and I can never pull myself away from ordering it , I chose the onion-crusted salmon with spinach-potato cakes, sage cream and crispy spinach.
We would have ordered dessert had we not been in a hurry. To emphasize my love for Bobbywood, Norfolk has an annual restaurant week and I dined at Bobbywood three times during the week long event, I had no qualms about it. I have been there the past two years on my birthday, in addition to every other time I can round up my friends to go out for a nice meal. On my birthday, they printed menus with happy birthday and my name. That is the personal touch I seek. Reservations are not required but suggested and they always ask if it is for a special occasion.

Please visit Bobbywood for an exceptional dining experience. Bobbywood is open starting at 5pm Tuesdays-Sundays and is located 435 Monticello Avenue in Downtown Norfolk.



California Pizza Kitchen, MacArthur Mall

California Pizza Kitchen Logo

I have been putting off writing this review for a couple of weeks now. I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for CPK. When I told Alex how I felt she nailed it by describing them as “solid, but not exciting.” I couldn’t have said it better! Things I like about CPK: menu variety (including good desserts) and consistent food preparation. Things I don’t like about CPK: menu variety and speed of service (it can take well over an hour to get in and out of there sometimes.) To clarify the menu conundrum, there is a good variety of pizza’s, salads, and entrees, most with either an Italian or Asian theme, however there are few options for someone looking for “light” fare. Most meals, even the salads, are loaded with cheese, or sauces, or pasta, etc. They do have a fat free balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing upon request, which I like. If you are watching fat, calories or carbs, you have to stick to salads at CPK, and even then, you will need to do some special requests when ordering. These days, most chains have nutritional food values available for their menu items. CPK does not. I emailed them requesting it for the salads and was told it wasn’t available. My guess is that once you know what is in an Alfredo sauce, or a cheesy cheese pizza, you may be less likely to indulge. They offer vegetarian information online for those interested.

Like Alex, I usually get the grilled vegetable salad, fat free balsamic on the side, and I like mine topped with grilled salmon. It is predictable and always very good. In the past I have had several different pizzas, pasta dishes, and appetizers. I have never had a bad meal. The food is always tasty and well prepared. There are a couple of servers there that we have gotten to know by face. When we see them we know our lunch will run smoothly and we’ll make it out of there in time. The ‘unknowns’ are the crap shoot here. It can take 10 -15 minutes to get your check or drink refills. If you're hungry and have the time, CPK is a solid choice for lunch at the mall.


Laine and I frequent CPK often.  It is a staple on our lunch list.  CPK has a wide variety, but I tend to always get the same thing, the grilled vegetables salad.  I am not typically a fan of chains, but this salad is one of the best, mixed greens, grilled mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, corn, sundried tomatoes and avocado.  The Dijon balsamic vinaigrette goes perfectly with this salad.  Service is usually good.  We have had a time or two where the food took too long, but we have also had times where things are above perfect and the food has always been up to par.  In the past, I have also tried the white pizza which is great, the red velvet cake, which makes your mouth water and the caramel cheesecake, which is something out of this world.  All in all, this is a good choice, especially if you are in the MacArthur Mall or stranded in a city, where there is no sign of any decent, non-chain restaurant (been there before!).