Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Friendly Recommendation

"We're going to insert city name here, got any recommendations?"
Being a frequent traveler, I hear that question fairly often and do my best to provide ideas of worthwhile stops. Most often it goes right, but there are instances where something goes awry.

For example, after I posed this same question to a friend in Little Rock, Arkansas, my husband and I went to a cool place called Imagine a Restaurant. They had good sandwiches and very good fresh made chips. Within a few months time, I had friends going to Little Rock that would be in that area of the city, so I suggested the place for lunch. They arrived to find it had closed. Just a few doors down was Crew, a restaurant I'd also tried and found it to be pretty mediocre at best. I wish I knew what caused the good restaurant to fail and mediocrity to live on; I can only assume it was either under-funded or poorly managed, either of which will take places with the best food down in a hurry.

Then there's that time you make a suggestion and it falls flat. I've recommended both hotels and restaurants that were in my book worth return trips that for various reasons didn't pan out. The Crowne Plaza in Little Rock, Arkansas is a prime example; I encouraged my parents to stay there and their experience was far from good. The room was noisy and didn't have proper working curtains so bright spotlights beamed in like pointed lasers all night. I've stayed there on several occasions and have yet to have a room anything like their description, but during my last visit I discovered the difference. Rooms facing into the atrium area would hear all the music and sounds of the bar drifting up, plus the high-placed spotlights would be blinding to the eyes at 3am without the curtains pulled tight. So I stand behind my recommendation for the hotel, but know that guests must ask for the right room placement.

Another issue is level of tolerance. How much of a "dive" looking place will someone take? I've had some amazing bbq at a place in Memphis, Tennessee, but I can assure you I'd never go there after dark. I don't think the bars on the windows are just ornamental. For the sake of some good eats, I'm willing to accept the rough edges that may come with the package. There is one I won't tolerate though, and that's smoking. Nothing will make me do an about face and promptly leave as quickly as a cloud of smoke hanging over the tables, waiting to irritate my desensitized nostrils.

As of late, I've gone three for three. Brave New Restaurant, Cupcakes on Kavanaugh (both in Little Rock) and The Green Tomato Cafe (in Pocahontas, AR) all are places I've mentioned on here. Recently I've had friends give a thumbs-up review to all three, so not only are they still in business, they're approved by other trusted foodies.

Now I just need to get out and find more places to recommend. Despite those occasional bumps in the road, I'll keep on making my suggestions and take the chance. It's a worthwhile risk.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nearly Famous

In recent years, my range of tastes has changed and expanded, which to me is for the better. There's things I wouldn't touch as a teen or young adult that now I'm quite happy to find on my dinner plate. Common foods like lettuce or baked potatoes weren't a part of my diet then but now I eat them regularly. One of those such foods that in the past year I've decided that I do like after all is vinaigrette dressing. While I'm still not a huge fan nor have I sampled enough to deem myself a connoisseur of the vinaigrette, I tasted one recently that really got my attention. After hearing about Nearly Famous Deli & Pasta House in Springfield, Missouri, from a couple of very trusted foodie friends for at least a year, I finally got to visit the restaurant myself. They're ravings didn't go unwarranted. From the quiche to that amazing dressing, I was quite impressed with the quality of food served as well as the right sized portions. Nearly Famous isn't the "24 ounce cheap cut steak for $8.95" type place, but a bustling busy deli, noisy and active with reasonable portions and quality ingredients even an amateur foodie will appreciate. Between the delicious lunch and a good hotel, I was so pleased that I'm still trying to think of an excuse to go back to Springfield.

Speaking of the hotel, it was the first time in years I've had a chance to stay at a Residence Inn. Just pulling into the hotel lot in Springfield I was impressed with the exterior of the place; rarely do chain hotels have texture and style beyond stucco in one of about nine shades of bland. If they're feeling funky, the architect might leave a provision for a second shade of blah to add a little contrast. The hotel room was spacious with a comfortable living area and kitchen space, a usable size desk (sans one of those annoying glass tops) and a completely separate bedroom and bath space. The open space of the room was refreshing, and with a rainy night it made for a relaxing stay. The included free breakfast had plenty of options, better than I have come to expect from most hotels "free continental breakfast." The icing on the cake was the price, as I know I've often spent more for a whole lot less in both square footage or overall quality. (I did not take the photo at right; the hotel gave an accurate portrayal for once on their website, so I thought it worth posting here.)

We made one other noteworthy meal stop, that was dinner at Flame. The contemporary decor definitely sets the mood for a relaxing and intimate conversation over a good meal. The food was good but I found the steak to be overly salty. The quality of ingredients used was very good and the signature desert featuring a concoction of various fruits and pastry was immense but too delicious to not attempt to consume it all. It's not a regrettable choice for dinner, but I'm looking forward to trying other restaurants in the area too.

Now my friends are talking about yet another restaurant and giving it rave reviews. Oh well, I guess I just found another excuse to go back to Springfield. As if I need an excuse to travel and eat well...