Top China

Top China is my idea of what a take out Chinese restaurant should be.  It’s the type of restaurant that used to be a lot more prevalent before the growth of the Chinese buffet.  Here in Northwest Arkansas, it’s tough to find such a take out place, and not at all difficult to find the ubiquitous buffet, of varying success.  You can eat in at Top China, but it’s basically a take out experience, complete with plastic ware, Styrofoam cups, and paper plates, served at tables that even IKEA would consider rudimentary.

Let’s get to the food.  I always start with the Wonton Soup, and then move onto some combination of either Shrimp, Chicken, or Beef with Broccoli or Snow Peas.  Technically this could be counted as six dishes, though almost invariably I have the Chicken and Broccoli.  No matter what combination you choose, you will get good quality protein and fresh vegetables, cooked in a a delicious soy sauce.  I’ve had other dishes here over the past several years, but none recent enough to be provide solid recommendations.   That said, the food here is consistently good, with never a bad meal had over many visits.

When I visit a new Chinese restaurant, I typically sample the flavor of the Wonton Soup as a predictor of the quality of the cooking in general.  Sure enough, if a restaurant can’t nail the broth, they seem to have trouble in the main dishes as well.  You know you’re in for a treat at Top China from the very first sip.

Rating 4.5/5.0 – Really liked it

Top China
No Web Site
32A Sugar Creek Center
Bella Vista, AR 72714

Top China Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

First Watch

Of all the decisions that one has when traveling, most would probably be happy to have breakfast included in their hotel stay. I guess I’m not most people. I actually enjoy venturing out to find that luncheonette prized by the community.

First Watch is such a place. What makes it different is that they elevate the breakfast experience by serving complex dishes that are way beyond eggs and toast. One can choose very healthy dishes, from granola to high-protein, low-calorie wraps. Or, one can go the other way like I did, with a dish called Bubba’s Benny. It’s essentially southern biscuits and gravy, with eggs on top and potatoes on the side. My initial confusion was why they decided to use turkey sausage gravy, on what otherwise is a heart attack on a plate! I think it was just to enrich the savory flavor. I’d risk spiking my cholesterol again, once in a great while, and recommend you do the same.

I visited on a Saturday morning that was also the Fourth of July, where I was joined in the waiting area by many runners who had just finished the Firecracker 5k race. The wait was probably a bit more severe than on a more normal weekend, but as with most high-demand breakfast places, the later you arrive, the longer you wait.

The only negative tidbit I’d report is that the prices for everything seemed to be high, including the coffee. Most breakfast dishes with coffee, tax, and tip run pretty close to $15. It’s well worth the splurge, but it’s also high enough to make me wonder why I didn’t book a room at a hotel that included a buffet!

Rating 4.0/5.0 – Really liked it

First Watch – Memorial
www.firstwatch.com/locations/ok-tulsa-east-68th-street/
8104 E 68th St
Tulsa, OK 74133

First Watch Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cat Cora’s Kitchen

Whenever I have a long layover at a multi-terminal airport, I always ask the airport personnel “Where’s the best food?”  Inevitably, it”s in the international departures terminal, and that’s no exception here.  Having had my fill of seafood on vacation, I passed on Pappadeaux, which would have been a decent choice, and headed for Cat Cora’s Kitchen.

Cat Coras Kitchen - Store Front

Its location is a bit cramped, in a storefront that could easily be selling magazines and breath mints instead of featuring a prominent bar, with a smattering of tables on the sides and in the back.  I was offered what I imagined to be the best seat of the house:  the far corner from the entrance away from all foot traffic.

The menu was just one page, which for me indicates a restaurant wants to do several things well versus trying to appeal to the masses, offering mediocrity on a large scale.  The one puzzling feature was the price point: main dishes were either cheaper than $20 or more than $30, with one $28 exception.

I settled on the Steak Tacos, which at $19 was for me a good way to have an expensive meat but a lower-priced dish. The presentation was pretty simple:  four toasted soft tacos, pineapple salsa, strips of steak, and a condiment cup of green salsa on the side. The steak was perfectly cooked to medium rare, which was offered at the time of the order.  Both salsas were satisfying, though I went easy on the green salsa since I don’t tolerate spicy foods well.

Cat Coras Kitchen - Steak Tacos

The service was a bit leisurely, which was perfect for my situation, but I’m sure I could have sped that up should I have cared or needed to do so.  The server spoke highly about Cat Cora, as a serious restaurateur who visits periodically to give tips to the chefs, while treating the entire staff cordially.  The meal was a nice finale to several days spent on vacation.

Rating 4.0/5.0 – Really liked it

Cat Cora’s Kitchen
www.catcora.com
Houston Int’l Airport, Terminal E
2800 N Terminal Rd
Houston, TX 77032

Cat Cora's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Romacelli

Finding a special restaurant in the south is always tricky on a Sunday, since some are closed. In addition, there are several highly rated restaurants in Lafayette that serve only lunch, not dinner, making it even trickier to find Sunday dinner. I wanted to try something that was not seafood based, and I happened upon Romacelli, which is part of an upscale housing and small business planned community.

I was very excited by this beautiful restaurant, which had almost as much seating outdoors as the overly air-conditioned interior. Rarely do you find al fresco dining so beautifully lit – you could actually see your menu and other people around you. There were also quiet fans above keeping the air circulating.

If the food even came close to the décor, I was in for a real treat. The house Merlot was good, and a perfect accompaniment to my meal. I started with a cream-based mushroom soup, which was nicely seasoned, but a bit too thick and unrefined.

Romacelli - Creamy Mushroom Soup

The main dish was spaghetti and meatballs. The pasta was overcooked, though the overall dish worked. The meatballs had a bit of a chewy texture that I liked, and the red sauce bound the dish together. There was a wedge of dry pita-like bread stuck in the side of the bowl. It looks about as good it tasted. The grated cheese was served in a glass jar, which you rarely encounter today even at a chain Italian restaurant.

Romacelli - Spaghetti and Meatballs

Though I enjoyed my meal, it definitely reminded me more of a chain restaurant, on an off night, than a fine independent establishment. It’s rare that you find a restaurant in this area where the décor is the star, instead of what’s on your plate.

Rating 3.0/5.0 – Liked it

Romacelli
www.romacelli.com
115 Stonemont Rd
Lafayette, LA 70508

Romacelli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bon Temps Grill

For my first dinner in Lafayette, I wanted a restaurant specializing in fish, which was also highly rated. Finding a fish restaurant here is like finding a McDonald’s along the highway, but a good one is a little bit harder to find.  In these parts, there are even restaurants that are open only during crawfish season, which I sadly missed by a couple of months.  You can still order crawfish, but it’s frozen or otherwise preserved from the March to June season.

When I arrived at Steve N Pat’s Bon Temps Grill, it looked like a shack.  To be fair, I did arrive at night, and perhaps it looks nicer in the daylight.  The interior was a step up, looking more like a college pub/restaurant, with a sea of purple and gold as the servers all wore the colors of LSU.

Bon Temps Grill - Interior

The food was a few leaps up.  I ordered a side Caesar salad that hit the spot, despite being a bit heavily dressed, as most Caesar salads are for my taste.  The main dish was the star:  I ordered the Crawfish Pot Pie, which came with a pie crust composed of an almond paste reminiscent of a well-made Galette des Rois. Moving to the center of the bowl, the filling was indeed scrumptious.

Bon Temps Grill - Caesar Salad


Bon Temps Grill - Shrimp Pot Pie

The side of Sage Sweet Potato mash, which arrived late, was worth a taste, and it honestly could have been a vegetarian meal in itself, along with the salad. I had just several bites since I wanted to try dessert.

Bon Temps Grill - Sage Sweet Potato Mash

There were just two dessert choices, though the mixed berry pie with vanilla ice cream on top proved that you don’t need to offer lots of choice if you can make every dish count.

Bon Temps Grill - Mixed Berry Pie à la Mode

Outside of dessert, the variety on this menu was impressive.  You could easily dine here for a week, and have different food each time.  If I returned, I would have something completely different, confident that it would be equally good.

Rating 4.5/5.0 – Really liked it

Bon Temps Grill
bontempsgrill.com
1312 Verot School Rd
Lafayette, LA 70508

Bon Temps Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chris’ Poboys

I was sent to Chris’ Poboys by the agent at the nearby airport rental car counter, since I wanted to find a good place to eat, but not miss out on afternoon sightseeing.  I arrived to the parking lot, where strangely almost half of the parking lot seemed to be marked off for handicapped parking.  Either Lafayette has a large handicapped population, or the restaurant is encouraging people like me, in need of more exercise, to work up an appetite for a pleasing casual dining experience.

Chris Poboys Parking Lot and Restaurant

I had the short six-inch Shrimp Poboy, which comes with a pickle and potato chips. Since I was in the mood for fries to match the battered shrimp, I saved the potato chips for a snack later. It was a good decision, since the steak fries appeared to be hand cut and home made, and cooked perfectly crisp without being greasy. The poboy itself was delicious.

Chris Poboys - Shrimp Poboy with Fries

I added a thick chocolate chip cookie to my to-go bag, which melted just enough in the trunk of my rental car to provide the perfect ooze, without the mess, when it came time to have an afternoon snack.  Searching for alligators in the bayou is hard work!

Chris’s Poboys is a local chain with several locations, which is good for the folks of Lafayette, but bad for me. I look forward to visiting again for a bite to eat that’s just right when time is of the essence.

Rating 4.0/5.0 – Really liked it

Chris’ Poboys
www.chrispoboys.com
1930 W Pinhook Rd
Lafayette, LA 70508

Chris' Poboys Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Deanie’s Seafood

Sometimes you visit a restaurant and select a dish you want, versus the one that the restaurant is screaming at you to order.  And you almost always lose! My experience at Deannie’s began at 9 p.m. on a Friday evening, and there was quite a wait even at this late hour. When I was finally seated, I was greeted with a bowl of what appeared to be small red potatoes, instead of bread. When I inquired about the weird bread, I was informed they actually were small red potatoes, and meant to be eaten by hand, with a bit of butter and salt, to taste.

Deanies Seafood - Red Potatoes

My mistake was in ordering the pasta dish, instead of one of the fried platters, which is their specialty. The shrimp was delicious, and had the added luxury of having the tails removed. The sauce, or roux as they say in French parts, was flavorful, but not pleasing. Instead, it was loaded with oil, which became less appetizing as I reached the bottom of the bowl.

Deanies Seafood - Shrimp Pasta

I wanted to try their bread pudding, as a way to tap into what they do well, and was pleasantly surprised. The nice round of pudding was topped with a delicous sauce and a copious amount of finely slivered almonds. Now if I could just take back the dumb choice I made for a main dish!

Deanies Seafood - Bread Pudding

The dining room décor is worth a mention.  The space itself is wide open, but you don’t feel overwhelmed by it.  The wall art is pleasing and the kitchen opens up smartly to the rest of the space.

Deanies Seafood - Open Interior

Deanies Seafood - Roux Mosaic

Deanies Seafood - Interior into Kitchen

Rating 3.5/5.0 – Liked it

Deanie’s Seafood
www.deanies.com
841 Iberville St
New Orleans, LA 70112

Deanie's Seafood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato