Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hoping to Slam the Gates of Hunger

India Gate Restaurant
2512 Walnut Ave. 
Tustin, CA 92780

Indian buffets are very enticing, but most are only available during weekdays during lunch time, and after having four plates of delicious Indian food, the last thing I want to do is go back to work for four hours with a stomach full of tikka masala. I'd be pretty useless at work, okay, more useless than a normal day after eating all that Indian food. I bring this up because I always feel a little gipped when I see signs that promote Indian buffets when I'm at a restaurant for dinner. It doesn't diminish my love for Indian food, but I wanted to get this off of my chest.

Our good friends Angel and Rebekah have been talking about India Gate for a long while now, and we finally set up a double date night to try it out. When I looked up this place before coming here, almost all of the comments were about their $9.99 lunch buffet, and how great the food was. Even though we were going to be meeting here well after lunch time, all the positive praise really got me excited to give this place a try.

India Gate has been around for a year and a half now. They are located in a very out of the way shopping plaza just off Tustin Ranch Road and Walnut. This small, five-unit strip mall also includes a Korean restaurant, chiropractor, beauty salon, and a tiny sandwich shop. We arrived here at 6 pm on a rather chilly Saturday, but the restaurant had a steady stream of customers coming through the door. The inside of this restaurant is spacious, with nicely spaced tables, and bright lighting. Not being too well versed in Indian cuisine, I appreciated that the rather large menu was easy to navigate, and had good descriptions of each item. It really made it easy to order, and speaking of ordering, let's see what we ended up getting and if Angel and Rebekah's praise for this restaurant was justified.

We were pretty hungry, so we got a couple of dosas to start our meal with. This was our first time having dosas, which I'd describe as part crepe and part quesadilla. Our first foray into dosa-hood was the Cheese Masala Dosa ($11.95). The menu said that the crepe, which is made of lentils and rice flour, was to be filled with cheese and potatoes, but it was devoid of potatoes. Nonetheless, this was good, with a crunchy outer shell, and the not overly stuffed cheese filling inside. This came with two chutneys, one of which had coconut in it and it was the better of the two. Our second dosa was the Masala Dosa ($9.95) and it was partially filled with peas and spiced potatoes. This was a little hard to eat, as the fillings fell out rather easily. It had the same crunchy outer shell, but the insides were kind of boring and did not add too much to this, as the chutneys did a lot of the flavor work here.

Entrees made their way out pretty fast at India Gate, and we each picked a dish and decided to eat family style. Angel's selection was the Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.95). This is undoubtedly the most popular of all Indian dishes, and this version was wonderfully full of rich flavor, the chicken was tender, and it was hard to stop dipping my naan into the sauce. Delicious. My favorite Indian dish is Butter Chicken ($12.95) and this one rivaled the best one I have had to date at the now-shuttered Tamarind in Newport Coast. Much like the tikka, this also featured some very tender chicken and a delicious sauce, which was a tad more subtle than the one used for the tikka masala. Another winner. I actually picked the Lamb Korma ($14.95) partly because I love lamb, and also because I knew that both Angel and Katie would not want any. Yes, I'm very selfish. Most bites of the lamb were tender, with only a few clunkers in the bunch. The sauce for this was both sweet and spicy and had a tinge of cardamom hanging around each bite. As for Katie's choice, the Chicken Biryani ($12.95), I made the cardinal error of any food blogger by forgetting to take a picture of it because I was so focused on eating. Rookie mistake. Anyways, Katie is always on the hunt for a biryani that matches the one she had in New York and this one was pretty close. The chicken is cooked with rice and then garnished with a little bit of cilantro and fried onions. She really liked the authenticity of this dish, but I was a little bummed that the chicken came with bones in it. It made it more difficult to eat. No complaints from Katie though, as she assured me she would get this again.

Of course, some naan needed to be ordered to go along with our meals. The Plain Naan ($2.45) and the Garlic Naan ($2.95) came out nice and warm, but I thought it was pretty average. The garlic version needed to have more garlic included. Nevertheless, this was a great vessel for sopping up the excess sauces, which is definitely a trademark of Indian cuisine and one of the best parts of the meal.

I've come to the realization that Indian desserts just might not be for me. I tried all three of these and was not really wowed by any of them. Out of the three that we had, I probably liked the Kheer ($2.95) the best. It's made of rice in a sweetened milk. Kind of like a less sweet version of rice pudding. I forget what Angel had wanted to order, but they were out, so he got the Kulfi ($3.95) instead. This was simply a scoop of mango ice cream, which had a good texture to it, but I'm not really a big fan of mango. The last of our three dessert options was the Falooda Kulfi ($3.95), which the menu described as being a rose flavored ice cream, but I did not get too much rose here. Again, these are not really my ideal types of desserts, but the rest of my dining partners enjoyed them well enough.

If you get a chance to try the lunch buffet at India Gate, do it. Although I was not in love with the dosas or the desserts, all of the entrees that we had on this evening were exceptional and from what I hear they are all available at their noontime ten dollar buffet. The entrees that we had here were some of the best Indian food we have experienced thus far, although I am by no means an expert in Indian cuisine. The service was a little inattentive, especially as the night went on and they became busier. Thanks so much to Angel and Rebekah for introducing us to this restaurant, we enjoyed our double date and the delicious Indian food. Not necessarily in that order.

Out of five running shoes, (because the India Gate monument in New Dehli was the starting and ending point for Robert Garside's 35,000 mile run around the world, and I can imagine he went through a lot of running shoes), five being best to zero being worst, India Gate Restaurant gets 3 running shoes.

For more information about India Gate Restaurant, head to their website here:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's Pizzapalooza Time at Oggi's

Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Co. 
12362 Chapman Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92840

It had been some time since I had last thought about Oggi's. We had some good times at the one in Mission Viejo, but it closed some time ago. We used to eat there pretty regularly watching football on Sunday mornings. Oggi's was one of our favorite places to watch our beloved Jaguars fall out of playoff contention three games into the season. The garlic knots, breakfast pizza, and of course their award-winning beers helped ease the pain of watching our team flounder around aimlessly on and off the field.

Even farther back in my memory, I remember listening to XTRA Sports Radio, hearing the Loose Cannon's host, Steve Hartman and Chet Forte wax on almost poetically about their love for Oggi's. I knew it was a commercial, but you could tell that they genuinely loved this restaurant. All these years later, and they still have their own pizza still on the menu.

Oggi's has been around for over 25 years now. This pizza concept was started by two brothers, who were tired of their work in the technology field, and decided a change was in order. They created Oggi's, which has transformed into a sports themed restaurant, which does not just rely on the games on TV to bring people through their doors, they also have some real solid food here. Oggi's was also one of the first restaurants, back in 1995 to incorporate micro-brewed beer into the fold, one of the first to do so, and well ahead of the trend that is commonplace today.

Today there are 15 Oggi's locations, with a majority of those operating in the San Diego area. OC has two spots where you can grab some pizza and catch a game, Fullerton, and this location, which is just a few steps away from Disneyland, in nearby Garden Grove. Located in the same lot as a Mariott and the Wyndham Hotel, Oggi's has been a favorite of people visiting the Magic Kingdom and conventioneers for close to ten years now at this location.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, Oggi's recently invited us in to try some of their new items off of their Pizzapalooza menu, which is around for just a limited time. Estella Ferrera, Vice President of Oggi's has said about this featured specials menu that, "We are going back to our roots and focusing on creative and quality pizzas for our first featured specials menu of the year. Our Pizzapalooza menu is our way of having fun with unique toppings and flavor combinations while staying true to our commitment to high quality and fresh ingredients."  I grabbed my friend George, an Oggi's virgin, and we quickly accepted the invitation to try out some of their new items.

Definitely not new, but the Garlic Knots ($8.99) are a must get when eating at any Oggi's. They tie off their famous dough, bake it to a beautiful golden brown, and then dust them with plenty of parmesan, oregano, and basil. Served with both ranch and marinara, this is a comforting start to your meal at Oggi's. Both George and I scarfed these down.

I promise we will get to the new pizzas, but we also started with this Half Sized California Cobb Salad ($11.99). I'm glad we both decided on the half sized, as this was more than enough for one person. This salad starts off with a fresh spring mix of greens, and then adds plenty of grilled chicken breast, gorgonzola cheese, mushrooms, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, green onion, bacon, and sliced avocado. A very good tweak on a classic cobb salad. I'm always a little squeamish about getting chicken in restaurants because it's almost always overcooked, but this one was tender, and they were very generous with the amount included here. There could have been a little more bacon for my taste, but the overabundance of the sliced avocado more than made up for it. If you're not feeling like pizza, the full version of this salad would be a great alternative, just make sure you clear some space in your refrigerator because you'll definitely have leftovers.

See, I told you we would finally get to the pizzas. The first of the two new pizzas that we tried from the Pizzapalooza menu was this pork lovers dream, the Hog Wild Pizza ($13.99). This pizza was topped with pepperoni, prosciutto, crumbled bacon, garlic, olive oil, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and then finished off with some green onion. Pork nirvana. It was a tad on the rich side, but the spinach and mozzarella helped to even this out. A very filling pizza, which tasted great the next day for lunch.

It's really hard to believe that this has never really caught on. What you see above is the Fully Loaded Baked Potato Pizza ($12.99) and it was delicious. They take slices of baked potato and then top the pizza with plenty of crumbled bacon, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, green onion, and then it's finished with a sour cream drizzle. Think of this one as a giant potato skin. This was a lighter alternative to the much heavier Hog Wild Pizza. There was lots of cheese involved here, and I thought sliced potato on pizza dough was going to be odd, but it was very comforting. This is a definite winner from Oggi's and needs to be included on their regular menu ASAP.

I let George pick what dessert we were going to split, and when he picked this Blackberry Yogurt Mousse Cake ($5.99) I knew we were not compatible in the kinds of desserts that we like. I'm way more into sweet and chocolaty, while he wants lighter and a more fruity dessert. Even though this was not in my wheelhouse, it was pretty good. Definitely, on the lighter side, it had an understated sweetness, which I know George appreciated. Next time I'll have to try their Peanut Butter Crunch Bar, old fashioned sundae, or their Cinnaknots.

Oggi's really hit the spot on this evening. Even two weeks later George still remarks about how much he really enjoyed this place and looks forward to watching his beloved Bruins, Dodger, and Cowboy games here in the coming season. Oggi's is really a sports lovers paradise, but with some really solid food, and a fun, relaxing atmosphere. The menu is varied, so even if you're not in the mood for pizza, you can choose to have a sandwich, burger, and a smattering of entrees. Our server Marissa could not have been nicer and more helpful, as she really let her love for this restaurant show, and offered some really good recommendations. We would also like to thank everyone at Oggi's for inviting us to come in and give their new Pizzapalooza menu a try. It's only available for a limited time, so make sure to try the Baked Potato Pizza before it's gone.

For more information about Oggi's, or to find your nearest location, head to their website by clicking here:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Checking out Some Chilaquiles in Costa Mesa

Amorelia Mexican Cafe
2200 Harbor Blvd. C-110
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

My search for the best breakfast burrito has been overtaken by a new passion for me. I have really gotten into chilaquiles, to the point where its what I crave almost every morning. I feel like I'm cheating on breakfast burritos, but the heart and stomach know what they want and at this point in time, both want chilaquiles. So after a one hour walk around nearby Fairhaven Park, we decided to reward ourselves with breakfast at Amorelia Cafe.

I had heard about this place, as I do with a lot of the restaurants on my wishlist, by reading about them in the OC Weekly. They did a feature a year and a half ago about the ten best chilaquiles, and I wrote down about half of them to visit at a future date. We've made it through about half of the list so far, which you can see here.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this simple, yet complex dish to master, it's basically tortilla chips, which are lightly fried, covered in green or red sauce, and is then served with eggs, and sometimes meat. There are lots of varieties of this dish, and almost every restaurant does their version differently. To date, my favorite versions of this classic Mexican breakfast item are from Anepalco's in Orange and the one at El Camino Cafe in Tustin, both of which are included on the OC Weekly list but are also two very different styles of chilaquiles. The one at Anepaclo's is what I would call a fancy version of this dish, which is Chef Daniel Godines trademark item at all of his restaurants. The rendition of chilaquiles at El Camino was more what most people have come to expect from this dish, but done superbly. I was excited to see how the one here at Amorelia was going to turn out.

Amorelia Cafe is located in the K-Mart shopping center on the corner of Wilson and Harbor. Who knew there were any K-Mart's left? Anyways, there's also a Payless Shoes, Flame Broiler, and a Planet Fitness in the same shopping center, just in case you want to get a post workout following your meal.

We arrived here at just before 11 am on a recent Sunday morning. Amorelia Cafe is named after a city in Michoacan, Mexico, a place where Owner and Executive Chef Gloria Seretti praises the food from this Central Mexican city as, "food that tastes like heaven". The inside of this restaurant was one of the most comfortable we have encountered in some time, and maybe that's because we weren't expecting so much, based on the rather rundown shopping center this is located in. Pleasing dark woods, comfortable tables, sturdy chairs, a faux rock wall which was right by our table, and there were many TV's, all of which were turned to the same soccer game on this particular morning. We had about a ten-minute wait on this visit, but once seated, we made our choices rather quickly and patiently waited for our food to arrive.

Since I was here for the Chilaquiles ($13.50) we might as well start off with them. These were awesome. I went with the red sauce and added steak for the four dollar upcharge. The gently fried tortillas were served with scrambled eggs, crema, salsa, and cheese. The key to these was that the tortillas were crisp along the edges and a little soft towards the middle of the chip. The sauce was awesome, with a tinge of spice to it, which was cooled down a bit by the crema. Next time I will definitely save the four dollars and forgo the unnecessary steak, which was overshadowed by the rest of this dish. The ten little pieces of steak were inconsequential here, and my enjoyment of this plate was not dependent on the meat. The refried beans had a good consistency and were obviously homemade. I thought the serving size of the chilaquiles at first seemed pretty small, but these snuck up on me, and I was full by the end of this meal. Very satisfying, and something I will come back for many times over.

When I'm eating breakfast, I always like to mix sweet and savory, and since the chilaquiles only took care of one part of this equation, an order of Mexican Hot Cakes ($6.00) had to take care of the sweet part of my meal. These came three to an order, and I'm not really sure what made them Mexican, other than the fact that they came with both syrup, and what I suspected to be Lecherita. The hotcakes here are fluffy, had a good heft to them, and were made even better with the Lecherita, which kind of tasted like the icing that comes in the Pillsbury cinnamon roll tube. I used quite a bit of the Lecherita and the provided maple syrup and was a little bummed when Katie wanted some, as I did not want to share. Next time I'll make her order her own, as they were too good to share.

I was a little surprised that Katie did not get her usual breakfast in a Mexican restaurant, Huevos Rancheros. She opted for this Burrito Mexicano ($9.95) instead. This souped up breakfast burrito included eggs, onions, serrano chilies, pinto beans, and cheese. She really sang the praises of this burrito, which she said was one of the better ones she has had. She liked that there were some big time flavors in this, and the burrito did not just rely on a breakfast meat to make it good. The eggs were seasoned, the chilis added a subtle heat, and the pinto beans added some moisture. This was a burrito that Katie would get again and again. The menu said that this burrito comes with hash browns on the side, but it was a little misleading, as it came with sliced potatoes, which were topped with a small sprinkling of cheese. Katie did not seem to mind, as these were fork tender and were a nice side item to the burrito.

Amorelia Cafe was all it was cracked up to be. Their version of chilaquiles is definitely one of the best I have had, and this will not be the last time that I partake in them. The breakfast was so good here, we are going to come back and try their lunch and dinner items as well. Service was very leisurely on this Sunday. They did not seem to be in any hurry to turn over tables, and we did wait long stretches between visits from our server. I'm still glad I came here to facilitate my latest breakfast obsession. Even though this version will be hard to beat, I'm looking forward to tackling the second half of the chilaquiles list.

Out of five rock climbers, (because the city of Morelia, Mexico, which this restaurant is named after, holds a festival every March promoting rock climbing in this region), five being best to zero being worst, Amorelia Mexican Cafe gets 3.5 rock climbers.

For more information about Amorelia Mexican Cafe, check them out here:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pizza Party in the Pizza Capital of OC

TJ's Woodfire Pizza
641 Camino de Los Mares
San Clemente, CA 92673

After almost eight years of writing restaurant reviews, I have learned that there are some foods that are more controversial than others. I judge this by the comments I receive, and the page views that a particular review gets. Burgers, barbecue, and sushi get their fair share of attention from our readers, but by far the biggest response I get is when I review pizza places.

If I had to give a reason for this, I'd say it's because, like barbecue, pizza is really a regional food. Depending on where you are from, or if you just prefer a certain type, you are pretty passionate about your favorite kinds of pizza. Chicago, of course, has deep dish, New York has their hand tossed, thin crust pizzas, California even got into the act by coming up with single serving pizzas, topped with non-traditional toppings like chicken, barbecue sauce, salmon, and other things that were not included on pizza before the early 1980's. Then there's Neapolitan, which comes to us from the birthplace of the modern pizza, Naples, Italy. With so many options, it's no wonder no one can agree on what kind of pizza is the best.

For the record, I enjoy deep-dish pizza the best, but I've had some really good versions of all pizzas, and try not discriminate against any kind of pizza. I'm always intrigued by best of lists, and I took note of Brad A Johnson's, top 20 Pizzas in OC, which was published in the Orange County Register last March. I was a little bummed that my favorite pizza place, Tony's Little Italy did not make the cut, but I realize everyone has different tastes. I did make note of the number one spot on his list, and we finally made it to TJ's Woodfired Pizza nine months later.

Not only had this restaurant gotten the coveted number one spot from Brad Johnson, but another tough cookie, Gustavo Arellano from the OC Weekly gave this pizza a glowing review. Needless to say, my hopes for this pizza were at an all-time high. TJ's gained some acclaim by selling their pizzas out of a trailer at the Great Park Farmer's Market starting in 2011. They got their own restaurant in late 2015, in this pizza rich city of San Clemente, which already boasts Pizza Port, Sonny's, Cassano's, Brick, and Selma's. Not deterred by the competition, TJ's has been thriving with a four-star rating on Yelp, and all of the good press I mentioned earlier.

We got to TJ's at the weird time of 3 pm on a recent Saturday, which is right after the lunch rush, and before the start of dinner. Predictably, we were the only ones in the restaurant at this time, but as time went by, a few other people trickled in. Being in the same shopping center as a Krikorian Movie Theater, a Juice Stop, and a Wahoo's, I could imagine that parking could be at a premium during the weekends and meal times. We quickly made our pizza selections, ordered at the counter, and found a table close to the TV's, which were broadcasting the NFL playoffs. Let's see if TJ's can live up to their number one pizza reputation.

We had a lot of food coming our way, but I could not resist getting a Caesar Salad ($7.95) to start things out with. This was a very basic version, which came with chopped romaine, shaved parmesan, and a few small croutons. It was decent but did not blow me away. The romaine was very fresh, but they were very conservative applying the dressing on this, to the point that nearly half of the produce was not covered by any dressing. A few more of their crunchy and pretty solid croutons would have helped as well. This was still a good sized salad, which easily fed both Katie and me for under $8. We'll just ask for extra dressing next time.

Like my obsession with Caesar salads, Katie has an affinity for Garlic Knots ($6.75). Her best to date were from Oggi's, but these rivaled them. Their dough is tied in knots, baked, and then coated with a fire roasted garlic sauce, Italian parsley, and parmesan, and served with marinara and ranch dressing. I liked these, even though I thought they were a tad overcooked. I like a softer garlic knot. The marinara at TJ's is very good, and I found myself using it more than the ranch, which is rare for me. Katie still holds the garlic knots from Oggi's as number one, but these are closer to our house, so we will definitely come back for them.

Pizza time. Whatever style of pizza you crave, TJ's has a pizza for you. They offer Neapolitan, Cracker Thin Pizza, Deep Dish, and this New York Style Large Pepperoni Pizza ($18.25). This pizza had plenty of cheese and pepperoni topping it, and I found myself eating the crust, which is something that I very rarely do, which is a testament to how good it is. I was not in love with the bottom crust, as it was covered with cornmeal, which I think detracted from the pizza. This pie was not as greasy as I was expecting, which was a plus.

Katie is all about Neapolitan pizzas, so it was no shock that she went with this Gianelli ($18.50) for her meal here. This one comes with plenty of crumbled Italian sausage, a garlic oil base, burrata, fennel pollen, truffle oil, and basil. Both Katie and I really enjoyed the combination of toppings on this pizza. They interacted together wonderfully. The sausage was of a pretty high quality and added a nice saltiness, while the slightly melted burrata added a creaminess to this pizza. The truffle oil was applied in just the right amount, as it did not overpower, but you could tell it was there. A very delicate balancing act to achieve. Katie was not in love with the crust here, as she liked the crust on my pizza better. A very solid version of a Neapolitan pizza

So is TJ's the best pizza that we have had in OC? I'd have to say no, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a visit. Right now I'd have to say my top three are Tony's Little Italy, Angelina's, and Angelo and Vinci's. Of course, these rankings are subject to change based on my next visit to any of these places, or until I try something better. Back to TJ's though. It's easy to see why they get so much love from everyone. I really enjoyed it, even though I thought it was a tad too expensive, but I get that you're paying for quality stuff here. My pizza was solid, but it did not make my taste buds sing. I actually liked Katie's pizza better, and I'm not really a big Neapolitan kind of guy. So now that you've read this review, commence firing, and let me know that I don't know anything about pizza, or even better, let me know where you like to get pizza from.

Out of five policemen, (because when I think of TJ, I automatically think back to watching the 80's TV show TJ Hooker starring Willaim Shatner as a police officer), five being best to zero being worst, TJ's Woodfired Pizza gets 3 policemen.

For more information about TJ"s Woodfired Pizza, head to their website here:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ready for Dinner at R + D Kitchen

R + D Kitchen
555 Newport Center Dr. 
Newport Beach, CA 92660

I'm not sure if I had mentioned this on the blog or not, but Katie got a new job near the end of last year. It has been a little more challenging, some late nights, and a little more driving for her. After the craziness of the holidays, I realized that I had not been to her new place of employment yet, so I had to remedy that by planning a visit, and of course choosing a restaurant to try nearby. I also brought my parents along to check out her new digs.

She works just across the street from Fashion Island, and I have to admit her new place seems pretty darn impressive. Very professional looking, and we also got to meet a few of her very nice coworkers, who also happened to be staying late on a recent Friday night. After a long grueling day at work, I wanted to take her somewhere special, that wasn't going to break the bank. I had another place in mind, but a quick Yelp search turned up the promising R + D Kitchen, which was within walking distance. We made our way across the street and through the parking lot in that direction.

I did not know it at the time, but R + D Kitchen is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which includes some pretty stellar restaurants; Bandera, Gulfstream, Houston's, and others. This is one of four locations of this particular brand, which also has spots operating in Santa Monica, Yountville, and Dallas. This particular R + D Kitchen is located between Canaletto and the Neiman Marcus, right across from the new parking structure, in the northeast area of Fashion Island.

We got here at about 6 pm, without a reservation, and were met with about a 45-minute wait. Not in any rush, we walked around the mall and settled down in the food court catching up with each other. There's never any shortage of conversation when my mom is involved. After about a half hour of waiting, they texted Katie's phone that our table was ready.

We were seated just opposite the bustling bar at a table which was a tad too small for our party of four, but we decided to try to make it work. The inside of this restaurant was almost pitch black, with the only light being directly over the table. With the boisterous crowd, it was a little difficult hearing what my parents had to say, but that might have been a plus. Kidding of course.

The menu at R + D is not going to overwhelm you with choices. Their dinner offerings include eight starters, four sandwiches, four entree salads, and seven entrees. They also must rotate a bunch of stuff, because there were some pictures of a great looking Rueben online, but it was not listed on the menu and was not mentioned by our server as a special. Even with the limited number of items here, I still had some trouble choosing my meal. Let's see what we all came up with on this evening.

I should have known this was a Hillstone restaurant when I saw that they had this Dip Duo ($10) on their menu. It seems to be a trademark of their restaurants to have a dip offering on each of their menus. I remember we had a really good smoked trout dip at Gulfstream a long while back, which was awesome. The dip duo at R + D was made up of a very fresh guacamole and a cheese dip, which was served cold and made up of some coarsely grated cheese. Very unique and addictive. The guacamole was good, but nothing really made it stand out. This came with some very solid tortilla chips, which were a great vessel for these dips.

Entrees made their way out in a timely manner, and we'll start with Katie's first, the Ding's Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($16). This sandwich started with a crispy buttermilk fried chicken patty and was topped with a spicy slaw and swiss cheese. Katie thought this sandwich was good. She liked the textural component of the slaw, but it was not really spicy. The chicken was a little on the thin side but had a good breading around it. She thought the bread was top notch, and she would not hesitate to get this sandwich again.

Kind of an odd choice for dinner, but my dad was pretty excited by this Spinach and Cheese Omelet ($15). With this omelet, you get to pick between swiss, white cheddar, or goat cheese, my dad went with the swiss. The omelet was made well, and I thought it kind of resembled an unwrapped tamale in appearance. It came with a Campari tomato which was topped with a small mixed green salad. My dad kind of gave this salad the cold shoulder, as he focused more on the omelet and the toast. He was pleased with his pick at R + D.

I thought my dad was going to pick this French Dip Au Jus ($20) as his meal, so I was relieved when he went with the omelet and left this one for me. For the meat on this one, they slice prime rib real thin and sandwich it between two pieces of sturdy bread with a little mayo added and au jus of course for dipping. This was a good version of an upscale dip, although it could have used some onions or maybe a little more mayo to make it stand out. The meat was tender, and cooked to a perfect medium, while the bread was spongy, but still did a good job of keeping the contents of the sandwich together. I wouldn't hesitate to get this again.

I did think it was a little odd that my twenty dollar sandwich did not come with fries, so I ordered these Hand-Cut Fries ($5) off of their starters portion of the menu. I thought these were fine, but I was not blown away by them. They were obviously not out of a freezer, but other than that, they were pretty average.

When I had heard that the Carrot Cake ($12) at R + D Kitchen gets all kinds of praise, it was a definite must order for me. I'm probably in the minority here, but this is one of my favorite kinds of cakes. I love the spices, the little shards of carrot, and even though I'm not really a cream cheese frosting fan, it works with this kind of cake. This version at R + D was one of the lightest I have ever had. The cake was light and airy, while the frosting also seemed lighter than air. It was good, but I was hoping for a little more spice to come through here. If you enjoy light cakes, this might be the version for you. For me, I like a little more heft to my carrot cake.

Even though R + D Kitchen was not our original dining destination on this evening, it was a very solid spot to start our weekend off and celebrate our first trip to see Katie's new place of employment. I liked everything here but was not blown away with anything, with the exception of the cheese dip and my french dip. I'd like to try more of their menu on future visits. The mushroom meatloaf and the pan fried fish have piqued my interest and will be on my list to try soon. Service was very good on this evening. Our server Jared was one of the most personable waiters we have encountered in some time. He was friendly and anticipated our every need during our visit. Since this restaurant is so close to Katie's new job, I can definitely see us coming back here again pretty regularly.

Out of five beetles, (because the top research and development spender every year is traditionally Volkswagon, maker of the beloved Beetle), five being best to zero being worst, R + D Kitchen gets 3 beetles.

For more information about R + D Kitchen, head to their website here: