Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Vigor: A Call to Action

          From now on, I am going to pursue the Gastrological Gentleman with more determination and vigor. I need your assistance to help me continue to reach new  people and show them that they no longer have to wait like sheep for an hour of more for a good meal in the Tri-Cities. This new found determination springs from two events that occurred recently.  A couple of Saturdays ago, Amanda and I met her parents and her sister Andrea and a couple of her friends for dinner at Olive Garden. Of course, if I were the one to choose where to eat I would have never picked Olive Garden in the first place but that’s beside the point. Fact of the matter is we waited for an hour to be seated, a freaking HOUR! In dinky little Colonial Heights, this is insanity. I’m not going to lie, the meal was good, but by no means worth the hour wait we had to endure huddled together with every mouth breather and snotty nosed kid in the Tri-Cities.  The whole hour I stood there I thought about the numerous other great Italian restaurants we would have already been eating at within a 10 minute drive from there. Not only would we be seated immediately but our meals would have been just as good if not better than what we were waiting for. I felt like a slave to commercial advertisements standing in that packed waiting area, a human sheep.

Just last Sunday at 7:30pm, I tried to take Amanda out for dinner. Because I had a gift card for Red Lobster we decided to try to eat there. While the parking lot was rather empty, we were shocked and surprised that there was a 40 minute wait! The worst part was that when we pulled up we could see empty tables through the windows. Needless to say, since I was the one paying and choosing where we ate we turned right around and headed to Captain Tom’s on the Boulevard where there was no wait.

Please join me in my crusade to help save the good citizens of the Tri-Cities from long lines and generic processed food. Let’s keep our money in the Tri-Cities and bypass the chains and eat, buy and shop local. If you would like to be part of the movement, please like the Gastrological Gentleman on Facebook, post a link on your wall and try out these mom and pop restaurants. I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised and will never feel the urge to return the long lines, generic food and mediocre service found at the large chain restaurants.

                                Thank you,

                                                   The Gastrological Gentleman

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


9810 Jefferson Davis Hwy
Richmond, VA 23237


            On the seedy part of Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield that has been all but forgotten since the construction of I-95, there sits an extremely ugly yellow building with a red roof ironically named Red House.  Most people will never drive  by this little dump because there is no good reason to be in this part of town and those who do happen to drive by will think to themselves how ugly it is and feel sorry for anyone who has ever stepped foot in such a god forsaken place.  This is a perfect example of the age old mistake of judging a book by its cover. I agree, this place looks horrendous, inside and out. It is also extremely sketchy eating at a place that serves literally every sort of food imaginable; Chinese food, subs, sandwiches, fried chicken, pizza and seafood.  These workers and much of its clientele also fall into the sketchy category. But I guarantee that if you can bring yourself to drive into this part of town, are brave enough to step out of your car and go inside of the Red House (did I mention that it is actually yellow?) you will not be disappointed.
            I actually picked up Chinese from Red House for Amanda and me as our Valentine’s Day dinner. We ordered the General Tso’s chicken combination plate, a large order of General Tso’s shrimp (Yes, I said General Tso’s shrimp!), crab ragoons, and two spring rolls for $25.00. It was exactly as sketchy and dilapidated as ever and I swear to you there was even what I can only describe as an actual troll inside eating.  I had called in my order so within a few minutes I had my food and was quickly out of the door with nothing but the soles of my shoes touching anything inside but even then I felt a little dirty but I knew in the back of my mind that the deliciousness that awaiting was well worth anything I may have caught walking in there. It took all of my strength to not tear into the crab ragoons on my 30 minute drive home.
            I was met at the door of my house by my beautiful girlfriend, Amanda, and my extremely excited mutt, Harvey.  After a kiss or two from both of them and a Happy Valentine’s Day, Amanda and I wasted no time ripping into the bag to find our tasty dinner. Inside held a smorgasbord of food loaded with grease, sugar, salt, and MSGs, all of the things that make Chinese food taste so delicious.  Most places  do not have General Tso’s shrimp but Red house does and as always it was delicious. The large order is enough for three meals. It came with thick slices of green peppers and onions mixed in with the battered shrimp. The shrimp are large jumbo shrimp, not some dinky little popcorn shrimp where you don’t know what it really it is. Their General Tso’s sauce tastes homemade and is nice and thick and went perfectly with the shrimp. I chose white rice to go along with it because the sauce it so good you do not need fried rice. Their fried rice is amazing all by itself. It is a little brown and loaded with vegetables and bean sprouts, it is easily some of the best fried rice I’ve ever had. The crab ragoons were very good but not really anything different from other Chinese restaurants; fried dumplings stuffed with cream cheese and little bits of crab. The one difference is that they put pineapple chunks in their sweet red sauce. These little attentions to detail really make Red House stand out from the millions of other cookie cutter Chinese restaurants. My only disappointment was that I ordered spring rolls instead of egg rolls but this was my own dumb fault and honestly for spring rolls they were pretty awesome.  
            For the next two days at work I ate my left over General Tso’s shrimp and it tasted just as good on the second and third day.  I even ate Amanda’s left over General Tso’s chicken on Saturday for lunch and that was also delicious. I cannot say enough good things about the food at the Red House. I can also not say enough about how sketchy it is. It just goes to show you that you should never judge a book by its cover because Red House was the best Chinese” book” I’ve ever read. Man up and go check out Red House if you make it back home alive I promise that you will agree that it is the best Chinese restaurant around.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Luca Italian Restaurant

6619 Courthouse Road  
Prince George, VA 23875-2524
(804) 861-4887

             Prince George does not have many restaurants and the one’s it does have suffer from a lack of competition. Since there are so few in county many of them feel that they can serve just about anything and ultimately people will still come back since there are so few convenient places to choose from. Luca’s used to be different; when it was owned by a local family the food was very good and the service and atmosphere was excellent because they were literally serving their neighbors. But a few years back they sold the restaurant and it has gradually slid downhill ever since.

A couple of weeks ago it was Amanda’s grandfather’s 81st birthday so we all went out to Luca’s. We had a great time celebrating Mr. Vtipil’s 81st birthday. The only thing that put a damper on the festivities was the food. The cake Amanda’s sister, Andrea, made for her grandfather was delicious but my meal was lackluster. A long time ago I stopped ordering pasta at Luca’s and many other dinky Italian restaurants like it because the pasta was always over cooked and the sauces tasted like they were scooped straight out of a can with very little pride or culinary skill put into them. There are a few exceptions to this rule but most places suffer from this laziness and cheapness. Whenever I frequent these establishments I skip the pasta and stick with the things that are very hard to mess up like pizza, calzones, sandwiches, and subs.

This time at Luca’s I decided to order a calzone; with just ricotta, mozzarella, and pepperoni (which I replaced the ham with) it can only be but so bad, right?  What I received was a thin crescent shaped pastry that resembled a true calzone in shape only. Luckily, it tasted a bit better than it looked although it was rather skimpy. The outside was a thin crisp and crunchy shell holding in a minuscule amount of chesses and pepperoni. The flavors were not terrible but it was a far cry from the best calzone I’ve ever had or even from a really good one. The watery marinara sauce that accompanied it, which usually is used to enhance the flavor, added nothing but a metallic flavor and made it soggy. Needless to say I was not impressed by my meal.

What may be worse than the food is the fact that while it is a hometown diner the staff and the owners really do not act like it. They are all as impersonal as any other chain restaurant. The only thing that makes it feel like a hometown place is that you often see your friends and neighbors eating there. 

As much as I would love for people to eat in Prince George and keep your money and taxes in the county I cannot recommend eating at Luca’s. There are far better Italian restaurants within driving distance and they are worth the extra drive.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bayou BBQ

Bayou BBQ
2231 Blvd
Colonial Heights, VA 23834

They place was completely empty so I took a seat and my waiter was there quickly to take my drink order.  I had a coupon for buy one thing get one thing free. After browsing over the menu I settled on the BBQ combo $16.99 and fried alligator as an appetizer $10.99. That’s right fried alligator. While I waited on my food I tasted each of the three different types of BBQ that were on the table. The first was their Carolina bayou sauce; it was mustard based sauce with a strong mustard flavor that was very good. The next was their thick sweet sauce, also very good. Finally I tried that signature sauce. It was a think vinegary sauce with a sweet aftertaste. All three of the sauces were awesome and I thought that I was wrong and this was not one of the worst BBQ places around but was actually one of the best.
It actually took quite a while for my alligator to come out but since I have no idea how long it takes to prepare and cook alligator I can’t say anything bad about that. For $10.99 the 12 small chunks of deep fried alligator seemed a little expensive but where else in the Tri-Cities can you get alligator.  As cliché as it is the alligator really did taste just like chicken but chewier. If you did not know that it was alligator one would think that it was just chicken bites. They were cooked very well; seasoned and fried to perfection. They were delicious and served with their swamp sauce which had more bite that the alligator ever did. But while it was spicy it was not uncomfortably hot and tasted very good.
Before I had eaten three pieces of the alligator my BBQ combo plate was served. It was a smorgasbord of smoked meats. It came with three ribs, ¼ chicken, three slices of brisket, 4 inches of sausage, a large helping of chopped pork, collard greens, cole slaw, and hush puppies. The portion was pretty large and was enough for two meals. Everything looked and smelled delicious. I thought that I had found an undiscovered BBQ gem. The first thing I tried was the sausage which I was disappointed with because it was just a smoked kielbasa type sausage not a true smoked sausage in my opinion. It did have a decent flavor but like I said it was only a kielbasa. After a bite of sausage I dug into the chopped pork BBQ, even though I really don’t care for chopped BBQ it was awesome, smokey, well seasoned and moist. Topped with their sweat creamy cole slaw and their sweet BBQ sauce it was outstanding although it would have been twice as good if it was pulled. With the pork BBQ being so awesome I was excited about try the beef brisket which is my favorite. Just looking at it I knew that something was not right, it appeared over cooked and dry and was a grayish color. My first bite proved my assumption correct, it was bone dry and extremely tough. It was the worst brisket I have ever eaten. It was more like roast beef. The ribs, which I ordered dry rubbed so that I could try the different BBQ sauces, suffered from the same problem. They were overly dry, tough and chewy. I will never order brisket or ribs here again.  The chicken quarter on the other hand was quite good, nice and juicy and well smoked throughout. It was without any BBQ sauce on it but their signature sauce went extremely well with it. The sides were actually extremely good. Their collard greens were some of the best I’ve ever eaten full of flavor with not too much of a vinegar taste. The cole slaw was also very delicious, very creamy and sweet. The hushpuppies were the low point of the sides, decent but nothing special.
                Overall Bayou BBQ was OK. Their sauces are awesome and Thursdays they do have a pretty awesome looking New Orleans menu but their BBQ was lackluster. It was dry and tough, the exact opposite of what one looks for in BBQ. I would recommend going here. There is MUCH better BBQ right down the road in Petersburg. If anything stop by Bayou BBQ and buy their specialty sauce and put it on better smoked BBQ than they serve.
I must admit that I did not have very high expectations for Bayou BBQ.  Walking in, I thought that my expectations would quickly be realized because the place looked confused caught between a Mardi gras themed sports bar and a southern down home restaurant neither of which were done well. Everything looked old except for the Mardi gras decorations which looked tacky and cheap. I just reassured myself but thinking that there was a smoker out front so they had to have some sort of BBQ and as I always say bad BBQ is better than a good salad. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wabi Sabi

29 Bollingbrook Street  
Petersburg, VA 23803-4548
(804) 862-1365


In recent years Downtown Petersburg has become home to quite a few nice restaurants. One of the best of these has to be Wabi Sabi, Petersburg’s own sushi and tapas bar. Located right in the middle of downtown Wabi Sabi is always packed, filled with the most eclectic mix of people one can find, from hipsters eating crab dip to men in overalls and camouflage digging into sushi. The restaurant is a decent size when the down stairs area, which contains a bar and stage, is open but you may find yourself waiting for a seat if it is not. The place is tastefully decorated with very nice decorations for holidays and events. The best part is that it is not over the top Japanese themed just because it serves sushi. In fact I don’t think that a single Asian person even works there.

I really love sushi from Wabi Sabi, but sushi is a little price prohibitive so I do not eat there as often as I would like. When Amanda and I do decide to splurge when always begin with their crab dip served with fried pita. This is probably the best crab dip around. Full of crab but it does not taste like you licked a pier. The pita really adds a lot. Its crispiness goes well with the soft smoothness of the dip. I always order sushi at Wabi Sabi because it is a sushi bar and it tastes so freaking awesome. The first time I went I ordered off of the front of the menu and got your typical sushi; raw fish wrapped in rice and seaweed, but looked on with envy as other people were presented with the most beautiful decadent looking rolls I’ve ever seen. After inquiring with our waitress I found out that the specialty sushi is located on the back of the menu. These rolls range from sushi topped with steak to sushi filled with cream cheese and a variety of different fruits some are even tempura fried. These may sound weird but please trust me; these are some of the best things I have ever eaten. This last time I went I ordered my favorite, the surf and turf roll (8 pieces): lump crab meat, cream cheese, and tempura shrimp topped with thinly sliced steak, eel sauce, tempura crunchies, scallions and masago for $15.00.  These are truly more than a meal they are a work of art, delicious and beautiful. Every part of the roll plays off of another dancing delicately over your tongue. The sweetness of the crab complements the seer on the steak and the smoothness of the cream cheese plays with the crunchiness of the tempura. The eel sauce gives it all a sweet flavor that is then counter balanced by the masago. I really wish that I could explain just how delicious it is, actually how delicious they are all.

For those who are not quite so adventurous, Wabi Sabi also serves a variety or other Asian and American dishes from low mein with your choice of meat to burgers, salads, and sandwiches.  Amanda is not very hip on sushi so she usually sticks to these items. While she tells me that these are very good I strongly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and splitting a few specialty sushi rolls. Once you get over the fact that it contains raw fish (actually a lot have cooked fish) you will quickly fall in love with Wabi Sabi’s sushi’s tantalizing flavors and delicate textures; just make sure to steer clear of the wasabi and ginger.