Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Orlando buffet roundup!

Last week the four of us went to Orlando. What a haven for those like me who love inexpensive buffets! We tried several, but the three below are all prominent chains in Orlando, so I thought I'd compare them. Thankfully, all three had mac and cheese in abundance for the boys!

CiCi's Pizza:

The good (CiCi's Pizza):
The cheapest of the bunch. The hot pizza came steadily with a variety of toppings. I loved the chewy crust! A mere $23 fed our family of four, so the value was amazing.

Salad bar at CiCi's

To be desired (CiCi's Pizza):
The dessert section had only three or four items and overall the selection of foods was the slimmest of the three buffets here. The chicken was finely diced into little cubes--so small you wouldn't guess it was chicken. With the bright colors and games surrounding the eating area, I felt like I was at a Chuck E Cheese.
CiCi's pizza: Yes, those little cubes you see are chicken

Golden Corral:
Meatloaf at Golden Corral

The good (Golden Corral): 
The desserts were great! They had two chocolate fountains--one dark, one white--and a caramel fountain. The selection was amazing (what other buffet includes liver and onions?), running deep on breakfast and lunch items just before the noon hour. They offered us as many pint-sized cartons of milk as we wanted, even including chocolate milk.

The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender at Golden Corral

Pick your pasta! There's a lot of it at Golden Corral

The lasagna at Golden Corral was the best of the buffets I tried in Orlando

The cakes were delicious! I wished I had the room for all of them.

The chocolate fountains were A-OK at the Corral!
A couple of boys found what they were looking for at Golden Corral.

To be desired (Golden Corral):
The service was friendly, but not prompt. We were already almost done with lunch when the server asked us if we wanted anything to drink.

Wood Grill:
The ribs at Wood Grill were top notch.

The good (Wood Grill):
The pork ribs were terrific! The barbecue sauce caramelized deliciously into a sweet, burnt crust on the meat. I'd have that sauce with ribs any day of the week. Also, the fruit pies came with a delicious, flakey crust. The selection of meats, which included chicken cooked at least four different ways (by my count), steak and burgers was good.
There was a great variety of fresh fruit available at Wood Grill.
The salad bar was equally comprehensive with three different types of leafy salads and a fine selection of fruit including grapes, honeydew, cantaloupe, oranges, apples and pineapple.

The grill at Wood Grill was always cranking out meat.
Of the three buffets, this one was the proverbial clean, well lighted place.

You could pick any pie at Wood Grill and wouldn't go wrong.
To be desired (Wood Grill):
The most expensive of the restaurants reviewed here. At $46 for this family of four, Wood Grill can't be considered cheap. Also, there wasn't open access to the chocolate fountain. So, you needed help from behind the counter, which wasn't always well attended.
The beans at Wood Grill were right on, but the hamburger was a little overdone. It was great that they had individually wrapped hamburgers and cheeseburgers, though.

And the winner is...Wood Grill! The pork ribs were simply amazing. (Without the ribs, I would go with Golden Corral with their outstanding variety and desserts). Also, the roomy, clean environment made this a great spot for any occasion. I could meet friends here, for example, and feel confident that I picked a venue that would please everyone.
The chocolate fountain at Wood Grill looked great. It's too bad, though, that frequently nobody was there to help you access it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Asteria Grill--Sunnyvale, CA

"Asteria Feast": This was a special and wasn't on the menu

Jenny and I had Valentine's Day lunch at Asteria, a Greek restaurant in Sunnyvale. I tried the Asteria Feast (above), which featured Greek sausage, cabbage leaves filled with ground sirloin, spinach and pea wrapped in phyllo and kotopita. At $11.95, the dish was a good value, however, the items I just mentioned were smushed together on the plate to make room for an abundant salad. So, things ran into each other in taste and appearance.

Gyro platter or "Gyros Piato"

Jenny, with the gyro platter, got the better dish. For a mere $10.95 she got a plate with food enough for two. We both liked the flavor of the meat and the pita bread went well with the hummus delivered to every table.

In my view, though, the steal of the day is the dessert sampler. For only $4.95 you get four bona fide desserts including baklava, karidopita (a chocolate cake) and ravani (a delicous almond cake), all of which sat in honey.

The dessert sampler: An unqualified bargain at $4.95.

Asteria takes lunch reservations for seven or more only. However, if you get there by 12:15, you'll get a spot--don't let the long line scare you away. You order and pay at the register, then find a table.

I look forward to going again! Just off the 101, it was only a six minute drive from my office near Monatague in Santa Clara.

Asteria Grill

Sunday, February 9, 2014

USS Hornet--Alameda, CA

Come to the USS Hornet for the food? Of course not! That would miss the point. However, the food on the Hornet gives this blog an excuse to discuss the Live-Aboard program we enjoyed this weekend.

This food isn't up for grabs. Someone will serve this to you.
The boys and I went to the Hornet for a Cub Scout event and it all started with setting down our gear in the hangar for roll call. This was followed by a welcoming ceremony. We then went downstairs to pick out your bunk. Sleeping in the berthing area isn't for everyone and most of the parents I talked to this morning didn't have a great night's sleep. However, it's a Saturday night and you can make it up with a nap at home Sunday.

The mess hall
Then, there's a fire drill followed by chow! The meal isn't anything fancy--chicken teriyaki on a stick was the main event. But, Dylan loved the chocolate chip cookies and Tyler did enjoy the chicken. For the kids, soda appeared to be the only option. We couldn't find water or milk.

After dinner came the best part: the tour of the ship. There's something in here for everyone, whether you have an interest in engineering (the catapult was terrific), cloak and dagger (the combat information center or CIC will captivate you) American history (my favorite was the Apollo stop or good old amusement park ride (the flight simulator was my kids' favorite). The tour guides are stationed at different stops and a designated group leader is given cards for directions from one stop to the next.

The tour stops at 10:00 sharp. At this point you have a choice. You can watch a DVD about the USS Hornet, or you can listen to ghost stories. We tried the latter first, but it made the kids a little scared and some the adults, well, a little bored. So, we headed for the movie--it was very informative! You'll learn about the Hornet's role as a WWII aircraft carrier and of course the Apollo mission.

Breakfast the next morning was simple but filling and delicious. Everyone got bacon, eggs and pancakes. And, you could pick up yogurt, orange juice, hot chocolate, tea and other hot drinks.

The staff is clearly passionate about the ship and their love for its history is contagious. Every scout got a free admission for another visit. I'd love to go again and bring my wife, even if for just a day trip.

USS Hornet
707 W Hornet Ave.
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 521-8448

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Monique's Chocolate--Palo Alto, CA

Ecuador hot chocolate with cream: A rich chocolate bar in a cup
When going to LA Burdick last August our family got spoiled. The thick, rich experience made every subsequent hot chocolate taste like water. Our experience at Monique in Palo Alto yesterday, however, made it clear we don't have to book tickets to Boston to find a great hot chocolate.

The Ecuador (72% cocoa) with cream was nearly the match of what we had at LA Burkick. It was like a liquid dark chocolate bar. If anything was lacking it wasn't quite as hot. The boys got a San Francisco Blend (38% cocoa) with cream and mint (which really added a nice twist and went well) and a Camelia (chocolate and carmel) with whole milk (just a touch thin).

Camelia (chocolate and caramel)
Service was very friendly. :)

Monique's Chocolate
539 Bryant St. Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-9669