Restaurant Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

Over the years I have eaten at a lot of different resaurants.  Many are local to the Phoenix area, since I have lived there for 21 years.  Some are in various cities that I have visited or travelled to with work.

Hattie B's Hot Chicken (Nashville, TN)

I love Nashville hot chicken. I've tried 400 Degrees, Prince's and now Hattie B's. There are others too but those are the ones you will hear about if you are in Nashville. Prince's is still the premium choice. But this newest entry, Hattie B's, is a nice, strong second.

First, the food is nicely cooked, and tastes good.

The main item to get at a hot chicken place is the white chicken breast. That is the gold standard portion everyone must try and have in mind when making an evaluation.

Let me explain something to those who don't understand what "hot chicken" is. It is not just chicken that is cooked hot temperature, or even just chicken that is very spicy. Hot chicken, when said in Nashville, is specifically referring to something that alludes to a unique kind of cayenne spiced chicken that is served and made in a specific way. (...more about Nashville Hot Chicken)

In any case, this type of hot chicken is available at a few local eateries in Nashville. Hattie B's is one that is talked about a lot, so I wanted to visit it and see how it stood up.

The chicken was indeed cooked nicely and the spicy flavor was excellent.

I very much liked the crew and the experience at Hattie B's. Honestly, I went to Hattie B's because I was visiting Nashville for just the weekend and didn't have a chance to go to Prince's. I had heard this was a good alternative. That is correct, Hattie B's is the best hot chicken place I have tried, aside from Prince's.

That said, the food would be 100% better if it was just served piping hot. Spices and flavor all matter, but if the food is served piping hot, it makes everything seem better. As a customer, I find that this is the secret of Prince's excellence, even when they can be inconsistent in spicy-ness. They always serve it piping hot. If Hattie B's figured that out, they would have a spot that could rival Prince's. Their spicy recipe is good enough to compete, but will only be a possible rival if the food is served at as hot a temperature as possible. The other main component to a great hot chicken meal is the fries. Again, Hattie B's falls a touch short of Prince's in this regard. The spicy zip of Prince's fries win the day.

In addition to the food, the cost at Hattie B's is slightly more expensive than I was used to at Prince's. Only $9-12 per plate depending on what you get. When you include drink and tax, you should get out for about $14 per person.

One of the advantages that Hattie B's (and just about every other restaurant) has over Prince's is that it's staff and it's facilities are much more inviting. Hattie B's has a good amount of room, clean tables and attentive staff, as well as clean restrooms (which is the terror bane of all who visit Prince's)!

Another joy of Hattie B's is the reasonable time for the food to be prepared and served. It was great to get the meal in a few minutes rather than the 30 minutes to 1.5 hours that I have had to wait at Prince's.

The trip to Hattie B's is worth it, even for long time goers of Prince's. It isn't as good as the legendary Prince's but, as I mentioned, a few tweaks would make it in that category. Definitely worth trying out.

Go. http://bit.ly/1mSytcE

 

Review Kim Gentes.

 

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (Nashville, TN)

If you end up in the Nashville area for any length of time, there is one place you must try. Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. Local, out of the way and unique flavor - yep, Prince's has it all. But, like many out-of-the-way places, it comes with a warning label.

First, the food is unique and spectacular.

The only real choice you want to make when you get there is this- mild or medium.  If you are a Prince's veteran, then no need to tell you about the other choices. But if you are new, forget the menu and just get the 1/4 chicken breast with fries.  Then decide your level of heat. If you are just new and not sure always go with mild. If you like lots of hot food and love real spicy stuff, get medium. Don't ever try the hot until after you have already successfully enjoyed the medium.  Here is my recommend for all first timers:

  • 1/4 chicken breast - mild
  • fries
  • drink

You could try the potato salad or beans, but neither are stellar, and the quality is very small. Stick with the chicken and fries and you will love it.  I have tried another of the hot chicken places in Nashville, and while the food was good, the core chicken dish just can't compare to legendary Prince's.  You can get better beans and potato salad at other places, but you won't find better chicken, anywhere, anytime.

In addition to the stellar food, the cost is very reasonable. Only $5-8 per plate depending on what you get. When you include drink and tax, you should get out for about $9 per person.

Sounds great right? Yes, it is!  In the past, I had written about the rather lackluster cleanliness and upkeep of the Prince's locatoin. However, after several visits, Prince's has been consistently improving the tables, and cleanliness of the place. The bathrooms are still somewhat messy, but the food eating areas have improved drastically. Thank you Prince's for addressing those areas!

One of the difficult problems with a local legend can be the wait to get food. In the last several months this has improved a lot. The wait can sometimes be between an hour or TWO for just a single person serving of chicken.  Again, this is not possible for most restaurants to sustain, but for a local legend, people understand that long lines are sometimes part of the package. Lately, I have been going at off-peak times (no lunch or dinner stops) and the wait has been less than 30 minutes.

So here is the tact you have to take- go to Prince's knowing it's a typical dive. Go there for the food. The place is just a basic room with some tables. Nothing fancy. No real atmosphere. If you are lucky, you will get a table. Go there for the amazing food. Enjoy it.

Hands down, it is the best chicken I have ever had in my life. In fact, I haven't been there in quite a while and just writing about it makes me realize it is time for another trip to Prince's.

Go there. http://bit.ly/o9EEkh

 

Review Kim Gentes.

 

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (various locations)

I've travelled to a number of cities throughout the US and Canada. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to eat out at nice restaurants and eateries. My goal is normally to find local places that show the flavor and excellence of the region, knowing I won't have a chance to find something similar back in my home town. The other thing I try not to do is eat at chain restaurants that can be painful reminders that industrialization has reached even to our plates. That said, I have found there is one place I simply can't deny is absolutely amazing when it comes to its feature dish.  Ruth's Chris is a premium franchise steakhouse that has locations in most major metro areas of the US. My first encounter at a Ruth's was in Phoenix, AZ. A friend from work (Bill P) recommended I try it out. My wife and I went there for an anniversary dinner several years ago.  That one time was all it took.  Over the years, we have returned to Ruth's on special occasions, though rarely, as our budget allows.

Ruth's does one thing better than any other steakhouse I have had the pleasure to visit- the filet. I have been to Morton's (often assailed as being a rival), to exclusive steak restaurants in cities around the US, including both LA and NY. But frankly, nothing I have ever tasted can rival a filet at Ruth's Chris. To your table, it is so sizzling hot that the butter is dancing around the plate and on the steak as it is presented.  The outside is never charred excessively, and center isn't overly watery.  The steak, instead is sparkling with butter, and cuts clean through without losing form.  This steak hasn't been frozen or injected to change its moisture. Instead, it is perfectly captured in the cooking, heating it (they tell me) to 1800 degrees to seal and cook it perfectly.  Every buttery bite is still hot and amazingly tasty.

The rest is great too, the extra large sides (big enough to share) , tasty deserts and the well lit, business casual atmosphere.  But there is one reason I love Ruth's- the filet.  I have eaten at 5 different Ruth Chris Steakhouses over time.  My absolute favorite meal in history happened at the Ruth's in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  I had my favorite- the filet. But this time, it was offered with USDA beef or local Alberta beef. I chose the Alberta local cut. On top of the amazing Ruth's treatment of the filet, was a simple extra twinge of flavor that can only be attributed to the Alberta beef which sourced the cut. It was a just a touch stronger than the USDA Prime, but it was the beautiful perfection that made my favorite meal ever. My second favorite steak happened in Nashville, TN for Father's Day 2010 (we went a day early on Saturday eve).  

There are lots of reasons to try local places, and I will still do that wherever I go. But if I want a perfect steak, I haven't found any rival to Ruth's Chris. And if filet and butter are top words in your culinary vocabulary, you may find your new favorite place to be Ruth's as well.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

http://www.ruthschris.com/

happy filets people!

Kim Gentes

El Zocalo Mexican Grille (Chandler, AZ)

Mexican food has morphed into a myriad of forms and subtleties. Some of them are successful renditions of local nuance onto time-honored basic dishes. Some are new forms of typical mexican food ingredients made into new dishes completely.  What I love is finding a Mexican food restaurant that capably handles its mission of creating great food whether it is traditional or variant. 

I eat out a lot. So my expectations for good Mexican food are high.  I went to a wonderful restaurant today in Chandler, AZ that has exceptional Mexican food. That restaurant is called "El Zocalo Mexican Grille". My friend, Kevin Lott, told me about this restaurant. He highly recommended it. He was right on.

The first thing you notice when going to El Zocalo Mexican Grille is the great atmosphere.  The inside of the restaurant is nicely done, but don't settle for sitting inside. The key for the ambiance of this eatery is the great patio.  The patio is a perfect balance of beautiful iron frame tables and chairs, stone and brick walls, and professionally designed and arranged flora in an open air atrium. Sitting there in the middle of the afternoon was great, and I imagine the evening setting would be even more stunning.

The second thing to impress me was the chips and salsa.  Warm chips (deep fried, not baked) were excellent, and the zesty salsa was hearty and the ingredients were ground small so that it spread very well. I love good chips and salsa, and "El Zocalo" did not disappoint.

Service at the restaurant started off a little slow, but once the waiter came to our table, top notch attention and timeliness was the modus operandi of our server.  My drink never got too low and the food came in a very reasonable time. One thing I was very glad of- the plates on which the food was served were not used as heating plates for the food.  The food itself was piping hot, but the plate was not heated in the process. I hate nothing more than food served on a hot plate that burns you as you try to eat the food on it.  This has become an increasing trend in some mexican food restaurants, and it is a poor way to build in efficiency and speed into the food preparation process. Better Mexican food restaurants know this is a poor method and do not use it. Thank God that the "El Zocalo" actually prepares the food, then sets it on nice clean, cool plates.  The waiter was courteous and very helpful.

OK, let's talk about the main dish. I had a carne asada burrito with enchilada sauce, and a shredded beef crispy taco.  This was served with beans and rice as well. The food was perfect!  The crispy taco was eaten first, or perhaps I should say devoured. It was excellent. Perfect crispiness on the shell, excellent spiced and shredded beef and served hot!  Next I tackled the burrito, while doing round robin attacks on the excellent beans, with the occasional mouthful of rice.  It was great. I found myself spreading the enchilada sauce on everything and trying to get every last bite from each component of the meal. I literally have no complaints on the food at all.

As we left a sirene fountain centered the courtyard entrance to the patio and reminded me that architecture, landscape, service and great food can all come together to make a great eatery. That great lunch experience is what I would encourage you to encounter by taking a trip to "El Zocalo Mexican Grille" in Chandler, AZ. The food pricing was moderate, and though I have been to plenty of mexican food restaurants for less money, none of those bargain basement priced places had this quality. 

If you are looking for a great mexican food experience, try the El Zocalo Mexican Grille, you won't be disappointed.

 

El Zocalo Mexican Grille
28 South San Marcos Pl.
Chandler AZ
480-722-0303

 

http://www.elzocalo.com/

 

Good eating!

Kim Gentes

Lazziz Persian Restaurant (Nashville, TN)

I like to try different ethnic foods.  This last weekend, two of my sons and a friend joined me in trying out a Persian restaurant called "Lazziz" in Nashville. It is located along Nolensville Pike, which also is home to many authentic Mexican food restaurants.  We found the food, the people and the atmosphere to be a pleasant experience.  The food was not what I expected.  I assumed it would be somewhat spicy and somewhat curry based.  Instead, it was lightly salted and spiced with a surprisingly accessible flavor.

The restaurant was nice for its modest location and low pricing. The room was well lit, open and family sensibilities were obviously a consideration rather than romantic dining. This suited me just fine, and I liked the decor, bright colors and clean appearance. The staff was quick to seat us and to come to our table for drinks, and appetizers. We were treated warmly and with a family style hospitality. Lots of refills on the drinks and generous offers of assistance throughout. One felt the comfortability of being at home, while maintaining the service level that celebrated you as a special guest.

We started our meal with barley soup, some sort of flat bread and butter, feta cheese, walnut and assorted kinds of leafy vegetables on an appetizer plate to be shared. The soup was good and tasty, but not spicy like I had feared it might be. This was my first indication that perhaps the experience would not be too spicy for me and I was glad for it. While I don't personally like the bitter taste of walnuts, the entire appetizer tray was a nice welcome to a foreign cuisine.

The entree that I ordered was called "Sultani Barg Kebab", which included two skewers of exceptional meat. The first one was a perfectly cooked set of strip steak pieces. It was really served just right and still sizzling when I got it. I loved it. In fact, I shared several pieces with the 3 other people with me, since it was clearly excellent. The second kebab was a ground meat called "Koobideh" which reminded me of everything I love about meatballs, but with a zesty salty flavor instead of any sauce. I loved it as well. My meal included a generous portion of excellent rice (can't tell you what kind) and it was topped with delicious covering of Saffron for color, texture and flavor.  I don't ever remember enjoying rice so much. The entre was completed with a baked tomato served whole next to the rice. It was the perfect addition to the "basics" ethos of the beef and rice entre and was a nice taste balance.

We also enjoyed 4 different types of dessert to finish out meal. The bakery counter in the adjacent Persian market supplied the sweets for our dessert.  I am not honestly sure of the names of the items we sampled for dessert -the four of us each shared a bite of each dessert. My favorite, however, was the cream puff which lived up to its name and delighted the palette with fluffy sweetness.

After the meal I chatted with the staff and met a fine gentlemen named Navid who explained a bit more about the recently opened restaurant.  Overall the experience was exceptional, and considering the quality and quantity of food received, the cost seemed very reasonable.  Many dishes were under $10 and the premium offerings were between $12 and $15- a very good value in my mind.

But what impressed me most about this restaurant was not just the excellent food and top notch family-style service, but the accessibility of the menu for everyone.  My wife is a very choosy eater- sticking to the basic dishes of American style food. She doesn't like much spice and is absolutely not looking to adventure with food choices. Safe and familiar is her motto. Yet, I am confident that I could take her to this location and she would greatly enjoy the beef and rice based dishes they had- with joy!  Everything seemed tasty, yet accessible to most palettes.

Will I return? Absolutely! And with my sweetheart next time!  If you are a Nashville native, this is one little place to try, without taking any risk of ending up with something you might not like.

Lazziz Persian Restaurant
3725 Nolensville Pike,
Nashville, TN 37211
Ph: 615-333-0772 

Good eating!

Kim Gentes