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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.

Entries in review (5)

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

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


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

Pueblo Real Restaurant (Franklin, Tennessee)

Finding great food is always a task. But finding great food that is not native to the area is even harder. The last 22 years my family and I have lived in Arizona. Moving to Tennessee just 6 months ago, we didn't realize that we would essentially be leaving a cultural and culinary oasis for great Mexican food.  Hundreds of mom & pop Taco stands and grills that ranged from authentic to American neo-Sonoran dishes local to the southwest are left back in the Valley of the Sun.

In our search for strong Mexican food establishments here in the Nashville area, we tried the standards such as Pancho's and other local chains. Not much luck there. We also tried some off-the-path locations like Taco Lopez in Franklin, and La Hacienda in Nashville (on Nolensville Pike) and others. Taco Lopez is a very authentic small town eatery, but not very clean or comfortable to eat at. La Hacienda is good, large room atmosphere and relatively good food. Neither were stellar, but decent. 

One distinct change from the Sonoran southwest is that Mexican food here in the South relies much more on white, cheeze sauces than red /pepper sauces. Folks from the Southwest will find this odd, as the food will seem drier with less tomato and pepper laden dishes.

That said, this last week I have done twice with my sons to a restaurant in Franklin called "Pueblo Real".  We have finally found a taste of exceptional Mexican food!  

It starts off with two hits in our family- great chips and salsa and large sized cups of well-prepared Horchata. The salsa is the strong tomato ingredient on the menu, and it is done very well. Thin, but with a good amount of ingredients of dipping. The chips were warm on arrival, plentiful, and refilled regularly.  The horchata is huge and overall quite nice (it could use a touch more cinnamon in my mind, but it was still very smooth as is).

My son Jared enjoyed the Carne Asada plate and ate up every bite. I had a Pollo Verde dish which was exception in its use of various silantro and other green spice/peppers. The absolutely fresh avocado and nice white cheeze melted across the chicken braise was perfect. Included where 3 tortillas that were good and fresh. This all came with rice and beans as well, both of which were done nicely. My dish was 8.75 and worth every penny. Jordan, my oldest son, enjoyed the Chori Pollo and allowed me to taste it as well. Amazing! Of the five dishes I have sampled from this restaurant, it was easily the best. If you like pefect spicing, have a penchant for onions and enjoy chicken- this dish is a must try!

Cody, our youngest son, had a 3 item combination for just 6.75 - a burrito, taco and tamale. They were not the tiny sized editions you'd expect for a small priced combo special. They were large, full and tasty. I tried the ground beef and seasoning he had left from the burrito and it was very good.

If you have been trying to a good Mexican food experience in the Nashville area, I encourage you to try out Pueblo Real.  It is a step up from the decor of the mom & pop store/eateries, and the food is top notch. Finally, the service was excellent! Both times I was there, the waiters were fast, attentive and warm to us. Two of my sons are learning Spanish and the waiters were encouraging and patient to accommodate them trying to order in their learning.

Finally, when it was time to leave, I asked for a box. By the time I loaded up all the food that was left over from my meal (and put it into a box), it looked like I had ordered a take-out meal! They even threw in 2 orders of tortillas to complete the take-home portions we had yet to eat! Beautiful!

The best Mexican food place I have found yet in Tennessee!

Pueblo Real Restaurant
1340 West Main Street
Franklin, TN 37064
Ph: (615) 794-3232

Good eating!

Kim Gentes

Mi Bandeja Paisa Restaurant (Orlando, Florida)

My son, Jordan, and I went to this restaurant really only by chance. We found it in a local mall near where our convention was. It was a great experience. The meals we chose were attempts by us novices to taste some authentic Colombian dishes. I had the meal which is the namesake of the restaurant, called Bandeja Paisa. It was very good.

Bandeja Paisa had the following each cooked and placed on a wooden tray bedded with banana leaves

  • Skirt steak, thin slices and tender
  • Corn cake/biscuit
  • Rice 
  • One over easy egg
  • Pork belly sausage
  • Cooked plantains
  • Thick sliced pork back bacon
  • Half sliced avacado
  • Bowl of beans (soup)

I know this dish sounds like strange collection of breakfast / dinner foods, but it really was delightful. Everything was cooked hot but not overcooked. The sweet plantains made a nice contrast to the salty steak. The rice was perfectly done and salted. 

Others had some talapia (dish) and a dish with a type of steak strips in a sautee of vegetables and some kind of french fries.

The staff was great, giving lots of tips and being kind with every request.

Desert was the coupe de grace-- a marvelous flan dish was a great combination of caramel and gelatin.

But, even after this great dinner, the absolute best, most amazing thing I had was the strawberries and creme desert. Homemade creme, fresh cut strawberries and served in large portions with a cinnamon stick. The creme was not too sweet to make you feel overloaded.  It was perfect balance of sweet opulance. If you are in Orland, Florida and can make it to this side of town, you have to try the strawberries and creme.

You won't be disappointed. Try this place!


Mi Bandeja Paisa
Fine Colombian Cuisine 
(407) 704-7888‎

12701 S John Young Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32837

Good eating!

Kim Gentes