Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bistro Ginza Review

We were excited to find a Groupon deal on a sushi restaurant in Mason that we had wanted to try.  We had driven past Sushi Bistro Ginza several times and we're always up for trying another sushi restaurant. Unfortunately, our first experience there was a disaster in several ways.  Had we not bought two Groupon "deals" for the place, we would not return at all.

We were greeted immediately by a waitress who asked if we had reservations.  I kind of chuckled since the very small restaurant was pretty much empty when we got there.  "Why would we have made reservations?" I thought to myself.  This morning while searching for their website, I found out why.  More on that later.  We were seated immediately and the waitress asked us if we were Groupon customers, another question I found just a little odd.  "Yes." I replied excitedly thinking we were going to get special treatment or something.  Well, we did.  We were informed that, as Groupon customers, any place on the menu where we saw "Regular Price" and "Special Price", we would be given the opportunity to pay the "Regular Price".  I was a little peeved because, for example, on the create-your-own stir fry menu, the regular price was $2.00 more than the special price.  OK.  I understand.  No double dipping.  We had purchased a $25 gift certificate from Groupon for $10, a great savings already. We were told that, as Groupon customers, we got a 30% discount on a bottle of wine.  Sweet!  So, maybe the Groupon thing would work out after all.  The waitress informed us that they were out of several of the wines on their not exactly extensive wine list anyway.

We weren't planning to get wine.  But, for a 30% discount.  Hey, why not?  I took a glance at the wine list.  For comparison sake, I went down to Yellowtail Chardonnay which sells for well less than $10 in stores.  I think a fair markup for a bottle of wine in a restaurant is about double retail.  Well, Yellowtail was $29 on their list.  Using our Groupon discount would bring it down to around $20.  Still above what I would consider to be a good or fair price for Yellowtail. So, we passed on the wine.  I love sake. But, their cold sakes were $16.  A little steep for me.  So, I ordered a Sapporo for $6.00.  My wife ordered a mojito.  The waitress told us they had no fresh mint for the mojito.  My wife decided to try one anyway The girls got Sprite which was served in a can with a glass of ice.

Normally when I go out for sushi, being the bargain shopper I am, I look for the Chef's Choice which is typically 8-10 pieces of sushi and a sushi roll priced at a pretty decent discount.  I found the one I wanted on the menu for $27, kind of steep.  But, well within reason.  The only problem is for Groupon members, it was $40.  That's right.  $13 more if I used my Groupon discount.  Given that I had saved $15 by buying the certificate, that would eat up just about all of my "savings".  Since my wife got the stir fry, by buying the Groupon discount, we would have broken even, assuming the girls didn't order any of the "Special Price" items.  I figured if I was going to pay full price for my sushi dinner, I might as well order a la carte.  The sushi prices were reasonable. My wife got the stir fry.  My older daughter got the Udon bowl with shrimp tempura.  And, my younger daughter ordered the chicken teriyaki with french fries from the kids' menu.

Often when we go out to dinner and I get sushi, I end up having to wait because the sushi chef is backed up.  Not this time. I was pleasantly surprised when the main part of my sushi came out very early.  I got the scallops, tuna, yellowtail and other pieces of sushi I had ordered.  The waitress informed me the rest of the sushi would follow shortly.  She didn't say anything about everyone else' meals.  The good thing is sushi is served cold because it was at least 10 minutes before they brought out my younger daughter's meal.  I sat and eagerly enjoyed the aroma of my sushi while waiting. A few minutes after bringing out her meal, they brought the other sushi, a spicy tuna roll for me, a salmon roll for my wife and a tuna roll for the girls to split.  Each roll barely had enough fish in it to identify which roll it was supposed to be.  The sushi chef cut the fish into strips that were maybe as big around as one a stick ball point pen.  I'm pretty sure one piece of my spicy tuna roll had no tuna in it at all.  At this point, my wife had still not gotten her meal.  But, at least she could start on her salmon roll.  So, we all began eating.

The sushi was actually good, in spite of the fact that the roll had very little fish in it.  The sushi rice was still kind of warm (which is one of my pet peeves.  It should be allowed to cool thoroughly in my opinion).  The portions of the sushi were generous enough for the price and the quality of the fish was excellent.  The chef was just a little heavy with the wasabi.  But, I prefer that over chefs who don't put enough on the sushi.

My wife's mojito was terrible.  The mix that we buy and make mojitos at home is better than the mojito she got there.  Finally, she asked about her meal and her stir fry was brought out.  She had ordered beef, scallops, baby corn, eggplant, mushrooms and asparagus in her stir fry. She got most of what she ordered, but no baby corn and no egg plant.  The sauce was way overbearing loaded with soy and just completely masked the taste of the rest of the ingredients. It was dark brown (very dark) and thick.  The stir fry was served fajita style, complete with a sizzling, steaming plate.

My older daughter's udon soup was very good.  It was a generous portion served in a nice bowl.  She very much enjoyed it and I'm glad she got a great meal since it was her 14th birthday celebration. 

My younger daughter devoured her chicken teriyaki.  She declared her french fries the second best she had ever had (second to Burger King).

After we had eaten, we had that experience when after you're done, you can't find a waitress.  I didn't note the time when we got to the restaurant.  But, I think it was between 7:00 and 7:15.  We didn't leave until almost 8:30.  Kind of long for that type of meal.

Oh, back to why they asked about reservations and why it seems to many people had made reservations.  We did notice several tables were reserved as we walked through the restaurant.  Sushi Bistro Ginza had a special this month, 50% off sushi and 50% off wine if you were a "member" and made a reservation.  I found that out on their Facebook page this morning.  I wish I had done that instead of buying the Groupon deal. 

I felt like the Groupon deal was a bait and switch.  I will complain to Groupon about someone promoting their restaurant by offering a discounted certificate and then charging you more than other people who just walked in the door for having paid for the discount.  But, even putting that aside, the service was atrocious.  No one came back and asked if we wanted more drinks, how our food was.  And, it's just basic restaurant service 101 that you don't bring people's meals out one a time over 10 minutes apart.

Overall, I give Sushi Bistro Ginza 2 out of 10 stars.  Since we bought two Groupon deals, we probably will go back to recover the $10 we spent on the second one. But, unless we have a completely different experience, that will be the last time.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

McCormick and Schmick's Review

A photograph of Fried calamari (squid).Image via Wikipedia
My wife and I went out to McCormick and Schmick's Saturday night in celebration of our 20th Wedding Anniversary.  It was my second visit to McCormick and Schmick's.  Neither the service nor the food disappointed.  McCormick and Schmick's is a little more upscale than we usually go for.  The closest one is about 20 miles from our house.  However, it was our anniversary and we had a gift card (as we had had for the first visit a couple of years ago).

I am a big fan of using available technology.  We were going to call for reservations at 8 o'clock.  When we visited the website,  we found we could make the reservations ourselves on-line.  Nice!  When we arrived at 8 o'clock, we were seated within five minutes of our arrival.  Our menu had "Happy 20th Anniversary" printed on it.  What a coincidence I thought, it's their 20th Anniversary, too.  The waitress informed me that they had printed that on our menus based on information my wife had put on the website.  That was another pleasant touch.

Our waitress was well informed, bubbly and maybe just a bit too talkative.  My wife and I love a bargain. So, we were happy to hear that several of the wines were half off the night we were there.  We chose the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc which was wonderful and a bargain at $19.  BAs I went to look up the name of the wine on their menu, I see that two days before we visited, it was $29.  On the night we were there, it was listed at $38.  A couple of the other wines that were 50% off were also marked up a few dollars between the Thursday menu that's still on the internet and the Saturday menu we were handed.  Disappointing that they would do that. But, the wine was great and it was still a very good price.

Our waitress insisted that we have the calamari.  She said it would be the best we had ever had or we'd get our money back.  Well, she was right.  I don't know what they do to their calamari.  I've had calamari several times in many different places.  But, this is the most tender calamari I've ever had.  It's lightly breaded and fried and served with a fire roasted tomato sauce and banana peppers so mild even my wife can eat them.  She said if all banana peppers tasted like that, she'd eat them more often.

For our main course, my wife chose "The Perfect Combination" which was a selection of 3 entrees from five.  The choices were Grilled Jumbo Shrimp, Seared Parmesan Tilapia, Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Seared Lump Crab Cake and Grilled Swordfish.  She had the crabcake, tilapia and shrimp.  Her meal came with orzo and "Chef's Fresh Vegetables" which turned out to be asparagus.  The combination was $26.95.  She definitely made the best choice.  The shrimp were done to perfection and there were four large shrimp.  The tilapia was wonderful- nice and crusty on the outside and flaky on the inside.  The crab cake was also very good.  I chose the Stuffed Filet of Sole for $23.95.   The sole was rolled and stuffed with artichokes, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and lemon tarragon butter.  It was serve on a bed of orzo.  I was a little disappointed with my choice.  My first instinct was to go with the "Wild" Sea Scallops. But, I make scallops at home all the time and wanted something I couldn't get at home.  There were very few sundried tomatoes in the sole and the artichokes didn't provide much flavor.  So, the creaminess of the goat cheese wasn't really balanced by any other flavors.  With no vegetables on the side, the dish just kind of fell flat. It was good. But, not great.

For dessert, our waitress recommended a cobbler of strawberries, rhubarb and cherries.  My wife asked about something chocolate and they were out of their one chocolate dessert.  That was surprising and very disappointing.  But, we decided to go with the waitresses' recommendation.  The cobbler was covered with a walnut crust and served ala mode with Graeter's Vanilla Bean ice cream.  The dessert was  the perfect ending to an excellent meal.

Overall, I'd give McCormick and Schmick's a 9 out of 10 stars.  Great service, very good food and not too bad a price.  Our bill came to $89 before the tip.

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