Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Volcano Japanese Restaurant

For Wednesday's paper, I had to write about the new restaurant opening, Volcano Japanese Restaurant. It is located beside Pizza Hut and Radioshack in the Rite Aid/Boston Beanery plaza. The location used to be a former U.S. Cellular store. I wrote a story about it for The Daily Athenaeum, so most of the info is included in that article. So for now, I'll focus on the taste.

I had the chance to try two types of specialty rolls: The West Virginia roll and the Candy Cane Roll.The West Virginia roll consists of shrimp rempura, masago, avocado, and cream cheese wrapped in crab meat. This roll was my  favorite of the two. It had a nice combination of crunchy and soft that really allowed me to gain the full flavor and texture of the roll. It was all very fresh, and it didn't have that "hour-old" feel, when sushi gets slightly sticky and gross.

The second roll I tried, the candy cane, was also excellent. The candy cane consisted of white tuna, white fish, crab meat, and shrimp. Typically, I'm a "California Roll" type of girl because the texture and flavor of raw fish generally didn't appeal to me. This made me a believer. It doesn't have the "ew" factor of raw fish - instead, it just taste very fresh and flavorful. Now, I'm just wondering about all the other sushi I've tried.

The prices are fairly reasonable, with the specialty rolls hovering around $10, and there are a ton of options. When I go back, I'm definitely getting the same rolls - the texture, the freshness of the fish and the unique, secret combination of the sauces has me hooked. These photos are compliments of Mallory Bracken, a photographer of the DA.

Grade: A
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big Kahuna's

I heard about Big Kahuna's from a friend who has a family friend involved with the restaurant. The DA did a story on it, and it's been on my radar ever since. When my friend Kristen said she didn't want to go somewhere right in town, I knew Big Kahuna's would be a decent choice. It's located on Grafton Road, a few miles past the Walmart.

The restaurant itself is a small area, seating about 20 people total, maybe. There's also an attached bar/gambling area. The fixtures were pretty basic, and there were a few "Hawaiian-style" cardboard designs on the walls - nothing fancy. The menu had the typical American grub - hoagies, burgers, pizzas. Some of the dishes did carry on the Hawaiian theme by infusing some pineapples, etc. into the food.

I ordered chili cheese fries and the "Big Kahuna's" burger. The fries were a huge portion - enough for a full appetizer. They came out in a fast-food fry basket, and were doused in a few types of cheese and a mild chili sauce. It was the kind of chili cheese fries that require a fork, which means there's more than enough flavor to go around. They were also served with sour cream, which topped off the meal perfectly.

The burger was cooked perfectly and topped with gouda cheese, pineapple, bacon, tomato, lettuce and a tangy barbecue sauce. The combination was like an explosion of excellent flavors - maybe straight from Hawaii. I really have no complaints about this burger. I really enjoyed the tangy sweet flavor, and I'd go back to have it again - despite the distant from campus.

Grade: B
Big Kahunas on Urbanspoon

Colasante's Ristorante & Pub

A few weeks ago, I had Sunday off because MLK Jr. Day was Monday, so at a newspaper, that means I don't have to work the day BEFORE, but I have to work the day OF the holiday. Anyway, Kaitlynn Anderson (friend from high school and subsequently college) decided to catch up at Colasante's.

I hadn't seen Kaitlynn for awhile, and I used to drive past Colasante's every day when I worked at Elder-Beerman (summer before last), so the date was made. We went around lunch time Sunday, so I was expecting it to be a little busy. In fact, it was quite the opposite. There was one other table when we arrived, and as we were leaving, there was one other table occupied. Also, it is way smaller inside than I imagine. The building looks pretty big, but the dining are is only a portion of the size.

It has the sports bar/restaurant feel, with a dozen TVs perched on the walls, and sports memorabilia tacked everywhere. We were seated in a booth and began perusing our menu. The menu was pretty basic (and printed on cheap paper), but included various Italian salads, hoagies, pasta dishes and pizza. It had the Italian staples, and that's what I was going for. I actually had a difficult time with the menu because I would've been happy with nearly anything. I decided the baked ziti with meatballs. 

The dish came with a large salad, which was quite nice for a side salad. It had the typical lettuce, tomato, onion and mozzarella cheese, and it was drizzled with french dressing. It was delicious, but I wanted to save room for my main dish. The waitress, all the while, kept my glass full of Pepsi so I was a happy camper.

Topped with a generous amount of mozzarella cheese, the baked ziti was garlic-y (just the right amount, not too much), and cooked slightly al dente. The sauce was delicious, and the meatballs were succulent. The mixture of garlic and herbs was true to Italian flavor, and two large pieces of garlic bread topped off the meal. Everything tasted fresh, too, and it was hot out of the oven. For only $15 with a drink and tip, this can't be beat. I had so much, I even took a to-go box home and had it for dinner. It was just as good cold, too.

Colasante's has a simple, laidback atmosphere with dozens of options all at a reasonable price. It's definitely a place to go to on game day, have a good Italian dish and maybe a beer or two. I'll definitely be going back, along with a few friends.

Grade: A
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Albasha Sweets & Restaurant

I found out about Albasha through a DA article. It is located on University Avenue, behind Tudor's and Hibachi. I knew Albasha had Middle Eastern cuisine, which isn't my favorite, but I'm always willing to try a new place. This "restaurant" is really more of a sweets shop with four tables. We picked up the menu, and there are really only four "dishes" to choose from - kebabs and shawarmas in chicken and beef. I choose the chicken kebab, as well as a spinach pie.

Before our dishes were complete, we were served hummus and pita. I seem to think most Middle Eastern food is bland, and this wasn't really much different. It was also served on a paper plate, which put me off a bit. The spinach pies were served soon after, and I was happy with the pie - the spinach wasn't too salty or bitter, but it was tasty with the doughy bread.

When my chicken kebab dish was ready, it came on a bed of basmatti rice and sweet peppers on the side. The four-piece chicken kebab tasted like four pieces of chicken, slightly spiced, on a stick. I wasn't impressed, considering I could have probably made it myself.

Since their specialty was sweets, I decided to get a variety dish that had just a bunch of their sweets in one box. I don't know any of the names, as the woman who served the candies just took a few from each tray and put them in the variety box. Unfortunately, there wasn't one single candy I was impressed with. Some were gel-based, none were really sweet, and most were pastry-like. It's just not my type of food, so that didn't help their case.

In addition to my not being satisfied with the food itself, the atmosphere made me very uncomfortable. I felt like I was intruding on a family business, with kids running around and the owners were sitting at a table, as well. Brittany would go back, but I'd rather not.

Grade: D
Albasha Sweets & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lira Restaurant

Lira Restaurant is currently in its "soft opening" stages and will officially open this weekend. While browsing on Facebook, I saw a few friends becoming friends with "Lira Morgantown." When I saw it was a restaurant, I added it as a friend. There wasn't much contact information, so I Facebook chatted the restaurant, got the manager's contact information, and my A&E editor was able to get a story out of it that night.

I was excited when I found out it was located in the old WesBanco building on High Street - where I used to do my banking. It still has the feel of a bank; when you walk in, the old ATM is to your left, and you go through another set of doors to see the restaurant.

Lira is elegant inside. It boasts a bar, a few booths and tables, and a long wall seat with multiple chairs on the opposite end. It also kept the bank's vault where parties can reserve a dining experience. The tiles and fabrics are rich, but since the restaurant is located on High Street, it has to keep true to the young atmosphere. The first song we heard as we were seated was Katy Perry's "Firework."

The manager seated us and handed us the lunch menu. The menu featured soups, paninis, flatbreads, salads and subs. The first thing that jumped out was fried artichoke hearts. Kaitlynn and I split an order - and it was a great decision. The crisp, herb-infused crust collided with the soft tangy/earthy artichoke heart. They were also accompanied by a mayonnaise-based sauce that added just a hint of sweetness to the dish.

I wasn't overwhelmed with good options, but I went out on a limb and ordered the "French Dip" sub for my entree, which included braised beef, carmelized onions, mustard spread and provolone with au jus on the side. To my delight, it was tasty. The beef was solid quality, good texture and had hints of garlic. I dipped every bite in the au jus because I love au jus, and it added that extra kick the sandwich was looking for. And, the portion was filling.

I also had a side of sweet potato fries, which was probably my favorite part of the dish.The blend of sweet and salty was divine, and the texture was crisp on the outside and succulent inside. For dessert, we shared a Tiramisu (it was their only dessert). I wasn't too impressed, but I never am with Tiramisu. It was a little dry, and the coffee-flavoring wasn't offset by sweetness as well as it could have been.

Overall, though, it was a nice dining area, and the food was great - especially for not even officially being "open" yet. I can see this being a successful lunch go-to.

Grade: B
Lira on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Montmartre

Brittany and I decided to try The Montmartre restaurant this evening. The Montmartre is located on the eighth floor of the Hotel Morgan, a historic/fancy restaurant in downtown Morgantown. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and we used just about every bit of that time.

We knew this was a higher-end restaurant, and we were prepared. In fact, we were celebrating, so an expensive restaurant bill was in order. The Hotel Morgan is gorgeous in a classic elegant way. The menu was on display as soon as you walk in the hotel doors, and elevator is just a few feet past that. When the doors open on the eighth floor, it was pristine. We walked up to the waiting area, and we were seated in a room that already had three other tables full of people -- not what I was expecting.

The tables were set-up beautifully, with triangle-folded napkins and a warm fireplace adjacent to us. Our glasses were filled to the brim with ice water. Everything on the menu looked delicious. We were served a salad -- I opted for a house salad with Italian dressing, which was excellent. The greens were crisp and the dressing was tangy. A homemade roll was also served ... this bread was moist and warm. It seemed like it just came out of the oven. This homestyle loaf rivals Puglioni's butter-soaked bread. We knew this was good, and we went all out: appetizer, entree and dessert.

We chose the bruschetta for our appetizer on our waitress' recommendation, and we weren't disappointed. The tomatoes, basil, garlic, parsley and olive oil blended together, making my mouth water at the explosion of flavors. The slight sweetness of the tomatoes was offset by the robust garlic and parsley. Gorgonzola cheese was on the side (strong and smooth), and it all went atop a crunchy piece of Italian bread. It was simply exquisite. It's the best bruschetta I've ever had, hands down.

For my entree, I chose "Winter Gnocchi with Duck." I had duck in Paris, and I loved it. So, this stood out on the menu for me, although quite a few other options looked great, as well. The presentation was a little intimidating, as it was all dark, minus the parsley sprinkled around the plate's edge. The duck was so tender, it fell apart in my mouth. There was roasted butternut squash pieces that added just a bit of sweetness to complement the bold duck. The juslie sauce added a roasted taste to the dish. Under the duck was asiago stuffed gnocchi, which blew my mind. The creamy cheese, the tender duck and the sweet squash couldn't have amounted to a better combination.

As if that wasn't good enough, there was dessert. Cheesecake with caramel. Creamy, smooth and sweet. Enough said.

Surprisingly, my bill came out under $40, too. I call that a good deal. The views of the city only add to the ambiance. This gem of a restaurant is hidden in one of Morgantown's most popular landmarks, but don't let that stop you. This is the best fine dining I've come across in Morgantown.

Grade: A
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