Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ethiopian Restaurant

2555 Leavenworth Street
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

#12. Mahibrawi ($12): A little bit of everything

Strong, bitter, delicious coffee. Ethiopian Idol on TV. Large communal tables for families to sit and share with one another. And food with spices you're probably not used to.

If bland-tasting food is your thing -- and I know it is for many of us -- Ethiopian cuisine probably isn't for you. The overflowing bowl of chicken stew was reminiscent of Spanish adobo sauce, but there was something rather pungent in the spice mixture (berbere) that just didn't jive with my taste buds. After the meal I scoured the small grocery attached to the restaurant, trying to find the offending spice. Whether it was the fenugreek, rue, or possibly the korarima, I will never know. Recommending it would be like sticking something in your face and saying, "This smells really bad. Smell it."

#7: Doro wet ($7.49):
Traditional chicken stew topped with chicken leg and boiled egg.
In Ethiopian culture they must not have that "which came first" joke.

The Mahibrawi was the ultimate combo, served atop a large piece of the bread known as injera, which felt a lot like a cold, rubbery sex toy of some sort but tasted more like a sourdough pancake. Little piles of lentils, split peas, collard greens, and potatoes encircled a lamb shank that I will describe as "rustic." My favorite part was the ground fava beans, but that's 'cause I'm a yuppie hummus lover.

If you want to feel like a real Ethiopian, eat only with your right hand, and if you like forks and knives and no sharing, then you're S.O.L. Go earlier in the day before they start to run out of stuff, and only if you're in the mood for something new.

Ethiopian Coffee ($1.50)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Crystal Jade

7255 Cedar Street (north of Center on 72nd)
Open for lunch and dinner daily
Crystal Jade on Urbanspoon

Spicy Pork Bulgogi ($7.95 lunch)

Take some decent but uniform "Pan Asian," add one part creepy vibe of former Village Inn, mixed with a dash of good old family-owned feeling, and a heavy dose of quirk (extensive girly fauxtini menu and a free beer for liking them on Facebook), and voila, you've got Crystal Jade.

Uncle Steve and Aunt Shirley are the peeps who run the place, and a quick scan of their booze menu would lead you to believe they're into having a good time: Everyday is "Happy Day" with $5 sake bombs, for example. Getting drunk would be trippy here, though; lunch was populated by large business groups and kids with Grandpa, all chowing down in a snazzed up former diner chain. The metal-backed chairs were cool, though.

Chicken Hot Garlic Sauce ($6.75 lunch)

As for the food, well, it was just as monochromatic as it looked in those Aksarben Cinema advertisements you may have seen before your movie. The Spicy Pork Bulgogi and the Chicken with Hot Garlic Sauce looked disturbingly similar, almost like they were cut from the same steam table pan. Major gripes include the absence of the advertised snow peas in the bulgogi, the utter lack of spiciness on menu items marked with the little red pepper (maybe they crank it up at dinner?), and the fried rice that tasted like white rice coated with some soy sauce. The good news was that I was hungry a few hours later, not because of MSG, but rather because everything tasted fresh and healthy. The veggies were crunchy, and nothing -- not even the hot and sour soup -- was too salty.

Sometimes I wonder if I just didn't order the "right thing." Props for the gluten-free and vegan dishes, but this wheat-eating omnivore is still on the search for great (Americanized) Chinese.

Egg Drop Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

Underwhelming Fried Rice

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Barrett's Barleycorn

4322 Leavenworth Street
Open daily for lunch and dinner 'til 11p.m., bar 'til 2a.m.
Monday is $5 burger night; go Thursday or Friday for the pork tenderloin.
Barrett's BarleyCorn on Urbanspoon

Pork Tenderloin ($9.50) --
They cut it in half for a reason. 

My second visit to one of Midtown Omaha's staples left me a little confused as to why it's so goshdarn popular, but at the same time explained a few things for me (e.g. why Americans tend to be so obese). Here we have the very first place I ever dined in our fine city, some years ago. The reuben was forgettable; all I recall was my feeling of desperation as I scoured my iceberg salad for the last few bacon bits. It was time to give Barrett's another try.

Fortunately for my growling stomach, I remembered that Thursdays and Fridays are when Barrett's offers their famed Pork Tenderloin. Served on a sesame seed bun with an exorbitant amount of mayonnaise, the pork was exquisitely juicy, encased in a well-seasoned, not-too-thick layer of breading. Due to the (un)healthy slather of mayo, the stack of napkins on the table was necessary. And the crinkle cut fries were a joke. Still, the sandwich was so tasty, I'd say it's even worth braving the inside of a cramped sports bar during volleyball season.

Quite the opposite in quality, the beef in the French Dip did not appear to be US Foods' finest. Chewy around the edges and overall pretty dry, I've had better at Arby's. I didn't really know what to do with the heap of it, but it seemed counterintuitive to put it in my mouth.

French Dip ($7.95) 

Both sandwiches were insultingly and embarrassingly large in portion size. You can call it "value" or "bang for your buck" if you'd like, but there is really no reason for anyone to ever eat that much food in one sitting. But if you bring a buddy (or take a doggy bag), I suppose you needn't worry about spending all that food money you saved on your diabetes meds instead.

P.S. The freshly brewed iced tea -- though nothing special -- was refreshing, and the staff was obsessed with keeping our cups full.