Friday, January 30, 2009

Outback Steakhouse, Enfield, CT January 2009

Food: A-

Joanne and Amy write:

If you're looking for a slow food experience, Outback Steakhouse, like any other family restaurant chain, is not the place to go. Unless you pretend you don't know what you want for an entree while you enjoy your starter. (We know. We've done this to delay the delivery of a steak when we're only three bites into a salad.) If, on the other hand, you're looking for a reasonably priced and consistently good steak, we would both recommend the "Outback Special." Since we gave another restaurant a chance to compete, we thought it only right to take our gradebooks to what we consider the standard against which we measured.

True to form I ordered an Outback special, and since I hadn't had steak in a while (2 weeks!), I decided to splurge on the 9 oz (medium, please) for $14.95. All dinners are served with a choice of two sides, and--as always--I chose to start with a house salad and have green beans to accompany my steak. Amy did the same, only she exercised some restraint and ordered a 6 oz. (medium rare) for $9.99. Oh, and since we were in the mood to take our time and a breath between courses, we did stall on ordering our steaks until we were eating bread and our salads.

The honey-wheat bread came out warm but not quite as toasty as I would have liked, and while I thought the butter was lacking its usual sweetness, Joanne didn't notice a difference. Perhaps I was being overly critical after grading exams like a madwoman in a rush to get grades in on time. The chilled salads were fresh and crisp with a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, cucumber chunks, sliced red onion, juicy--room temperature--grape tomatoes, crunchy cheese-flavored croutons, shredded cheddar and sharp chunky bleu cheese. In other words, they were a great meal starter.

Shortly after we devoured the salads, our entrees arrived. Both perfectly grilled steaks were accompanied by bright green, crisp, French-style green beans that had been tossed in a nutty-flavored butter. The steaks were cooked the way we had ordered them, were juicy and fork-tender, and had that delightful blend of seasonings for which Outback is known. Even the 6-oz. was satisfying, and neither Joanne nor I had room for dessert, although the new miniature-sized sampler sweets sounded tempting. For those not into red meat, there is a wide variety of other menu choices including seasonal specials, entree salads, and several chicken and fish dishes.

We were there on the early side of dinner, around 5, when only one bartender was on-- taking care of both bar customers and doing service bar for customers seated in the dining room. Because the restaurant was not particularly busy she managed just fine, but had there been more customers to serve and satisfy, we probably would have felt neglected. That is to say the service was good, not stellar, but certainly worth 20 percent.

The steak dinners at Outback really are a great value. In this economy the pomp and circumstance (and price tags) of high end steak houses may have to take a back seat to a good beef bargain. Whether high end is never your style, or you're watching your wallet, "going Outback" is sure to satisfy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Uno's Chicago Grill, Manchester, CT January 2009

Food: C+
Service: A-

Amy and Joanne write:

Happy New Year from Joanne and Amy!

For our first excursion of the new year, we chose Uno's Chicago Grill, or what used to be known as "Pizzeria Uno," or even simply, "Uno's." This evening we went to the one located in Manchester to see a man about a coupon. We all know that January, or what we like to call "Holiday Rehab," is a good time for a great deal, which is what we got via email from UCG: Buy one entree and get a free 6-oz. sirloin steak meal. Works for us.

Even though we were sans coupon, we mentioned the "Insiders" deal to the bartender who quickly produced a reasonable facsimile. Upon questioning, she touted the virtues of the new steak deal and suggested we order it medium or medium-rare (apparently to reduce shrinkage...). We got comfortable, started shelling the pre-appetizer peanuts, ordered our wine and gave the bartender the particulars of our entrees.

Today was not a day to restrict red meat intake, so we both chose the 6 oz. sirloin dinner, with a choice of two sides. We both chose to start with salads; to accompany our steaks, I ordered roasted vegetables, Amy ordered steamed.

The salads were mediocre at best. Think bagged lettuce complete with dry shredded carrots. Add one red onion ring, a couple coins of cucumber, a quarter wintry-pale tomato and croutons made from leftover bread that could have used another 5 minutes on 350 degrees, and there you have it. Unfortunately, the blue cheese dressing (oh, yeah, no skimping on salad dressing today either--midterms are coming up and we have a professional development workshop to sit through tomorrow afternoon!) was not able to redeem the salad. There was little authentic blue cheese flavor so the tanginess was out of place-- more likely from buttermilk than blue cheese. The blue cheese hurt my tongue.

The vegetables were weak, too. Roasted or steamed (we each ordered one kind), they both included bell peppers which overtook the flavor of all the other vegetables present. In fact, when our plates were placed in front of us, that was the predominant aroma: bell peppers.

Fortunately, the steak, which was the main attraction, delivered. Though there was little difference between mine (medium) and Amy's (medium rare), they were both juicy and tender and tasty, seasoned well. We enjoyed our steaks as well as the freshly baked Parmesan-dusted bread sticks that filled any leftover space in our stomachs not filled by those veggies.

Sitting at the bar, by definition, means your server will be the bartender, and today, she was one who recognized us from previous happy hours. She was attentive without hovering, familiar without creepiness, and honest without condescension. While complimenting our accessories, she smiled often and made us feel welcome. She enthusiastically recommended the steaks and willingly over poured our wines. The "minus" attached to the "A" comes from the fact that she left us without silverware, took a stress-inducing phone call in front of us, and at one point, left the bar (and our empty wine glasses!) unattended for several minutes. We have high standards!

Our server came closer to meeting our standards than the food did. The 6 ounce piece of meat was okay, but steak dinner was disappointing--definitely not as good as one served at one of our similarly priced restaurant favorites. But given that we were at what used to be a pizza joint, it definitely gets passing grades. And let's not forget, we had a coupon.

Bottom line: print a coupon and we will come.