Thursday, April 30, 2009

Solo Burger (28 of 50)

Restaurant: Solo Burger
Cuisine: Burgers
Price: What you would expect
Score: 28
Will I eat there again? Maybe

Solo Burger was opened within the last couple months. As a new restaurant, kinks are almost certainly still being worked out and readers should take this into account. Many eateries take a few months to really get their service and recipes down. The experience that I had may not be indicative of the quality of experience you will receive in the future.

Solo Burger joins the growing ranks of niche restaurants, establishments that try to make their fortune by focusing on a very specific theme. There are interesting restaurants that serve just mac 'n' cheese, for example, or only a certain style french fry. Solo Burger tries to do this with burgers; and at least the night we visited, came up lacking.

Aesthetically, the place is pretty sharp- if to a fault. Lots of shiny metal and hard edges. It could certainly use a bit of toning down, although the restrooms were very pretty (full-on dark tile and all automatic equipment). They clearly spent a fair amount of effort and money designing the place. It just needs to look a bit more comfortable.

They have a nice bar and several beers on tap at a great price (16oz glasses ranging in price from $2.75 (Shock Top) - $3.50 (Sam seasonal)). When we were there almost half the customers were at the bar- so perhaps that is how they are planning on making a go of it.

The menu is pretty short (as it should be with a name like Solo Burger), you can choose from a few standard apps (wings, fries, chips, etc...) and they have a few salads, but most of the menu is burgers. Unfortunately they were out of several of their burger options (tuna, salmon, sausage, veggie, and hot dog (not really a burger)) leaving falafel as the only vegetarian option, and crabcakes as the lonely choice from the sea.

Undaunted by the scarce menu, we soldiered on, supported by cheap brews and a coffee milkshake that was tasty, if on the watery side. Service was perfectly acceptable and waters were kept topped off.

The Solo Burger was perfectly ok. Bacon, cheese, mushrooms, and a nice toasted bun. A good portion size, and quite tasty. The meat unfortunately had a distinct gas grill taste which was even more pronounced in the Jamaican Jerk Chicken sandwich. This sandwich was the low point of the meal. Dried-out, barely seasoned, and tasting like the grill- it was pretty darn bad. Sweet potato fries were a bit soft and could have had more kick, but still a nice touch.

Conclusion: It's attractive in a cold way and has cheap beer. But with a name like Solo Burger, you better have damn good burgers. Unfortunately, they were not. Perhaps with time they will improve, but at this point I can't recommend Solo Burger, if you solely want a burger.

Solo Burgers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 4, 2009

River Falls (35 of 50)

Restaurant: River Falls
Cuisine: American
Price: Very reasonable
Score: 35
Will I eat there again? Probably

I must confess: I have lived in Rhode Island for close to 10 years now, and I had never been to Woonsocket, even though it is only 15 minutes from my house. Whether it is just out of the way, inconvenient, or god knows why, I had never been there. This felt rather wrong to me, so finally we made it up to the big city in the northeast corner of RI. Woonsocket was fine, but that's another story; we are here to talk about our dining destination, River Falls.

Not surprisingly, River Falls is located on the river and is right next to a waterfall (in one of the many, many old mill buildings that line the towns between Providence and Woonsocket). The whole restaurant is very tastefully decorated and laid out, with oversized soft chairs, appealing lines and dark wood, and what must be a great view over the river during the day. The front room when you enter is a square bar with 20-25 seats, 3 TVs and a few tables near the bar. A staircase up to a second dining level (where a band was setting up) transparently separates the bar area and the dining room.

The wine, beer, and cocktail list was of a healthy if predictable diversity (although they did have an offering from the local Wachusett Brewing Company as one of their 9 draft options). The menu is also standard, if quite large. From burgers, to grilled pizzas, to fried seafood, steaks, salads, and buffalo wings, most Rhode Islanders will feel right at home at River Falls.

What is unique about dining at River Falls is that everything is a bit classier, cleaner, more stylish, and tastier than you might expect. Think a Chili's on steroids, or Chelo's about 3 notches nicer. This is made even better because the prices at River Falls are just about the same as those mass-produced relatives.

We began our meal with the heart attack-inducing River Falls Combo Appetizer ($10.99 for fried potato chunks with steak, bacon, and cheddar chunks, buffalo wings (with actual breast meat!), and coconut shrimp). We calmed our pulses a bit with a caesar salad (not fancy, but fresh and tasty) and then finished up with a fried haddock sandwich. Again, the fish in the sandwich was substantial and well-prepared, and could have been far greasier. Not exactly a light meal, but it was remarkably enjoyable and at a good price.

River Falls is a well done American bar and restaurant. It is attractive, tasty, and well-priced, certainly worth checking out.

Caesar Salad on Foodista
River Falls on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Minh Hai (34 of 50)

Restaurant: Minh Hai
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Price: Fairly cheap
Score: 34
Would I eat there again? Yes

Let it be known- I am a sucker for Asian cuisine. Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Malaysian... I love it. The vibrancy, range of ingredients, and bold flavors light up my taste buds and make me smile.

Minh Hai is a small Vietnamese restaurant on Park Avenue in Cranston that packs a pretty great punch. My last review (Tina's) talked about how great it was to have the namesake/owners present and involved in the dining experience, and once again we were waited on and served by the owners! The personal attention and care that most owners put into their service and restaurant cannot be beat. In fact- if you look at failed restaurants, the point where things start going south is often tied to when the owners step away from the business. It takes passion to survive in the food service industry. If you rely on employees to provide all the energy, your days are probably pretty limited.

Service was very friendly and polite, if a bit slow. We were one of only four parties, but with what a total of 3 staff to wait, bus, and cook you have to be a little patient. The wait was aided by the drinks policy, which is both BYOB and has a basic in-house wine and beer list. We took advantage of a dinner special they are currently running- $20.09 for two entrees and an appetizer (available Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday lunch). Most entrees run about $10, so this gets you a free appetizer (we chose excellent and attractive shrimp rolls- Goi Coun) (B on the menu). Decor is simple and the lighting is a bit bright- pretty much par for the course.

We dined on tofu with eggplant and onions in a spicy plum sauce (#67 on the menu) and marinated pork with imperial rolls (think fried egg roll) over rice and salad (#26). The tofu was great- spicy, slightly sweet, with satisfying chunks of lightly sautéed onions. The pork was sliced very thin, marinated and then grilled, creating an amazingly tender and well-seasoned entree that went perfectly with the rice (providing body to the dish) and imperial rolls (indulgent fried pleasure). A small, simple salad cleared the palate, bringing a well-rounded completeness to the dish.

Minh Hai serves excellent, authentic Vietnamese cuisine. You may not be pampered, but you will get great food prepared by folks who know what they are doing, and that is plenty for me!

Minh Hai on Urbanspoon