Sunday, June 18, 2006

Restaurant Review: Tijuana Flats, W. Colonial Drive, Winter Garden, FL (various other locations, too)

This past weekend, our family ate at one of our favorite local "Mexican" chains - Tijuana Flats - for lunch. The food is more American than Mexican, but it is good food and the kids can always find something to eat. This is one of those "fast casual" places where you order your food at the counter and then sit down and wait for a server to bring you your order. However, instead of the big sign with a number that other places use, Tijuana Flats just asks for your name and their servers will yell out your name as they wander through the restaurant trying to find you. If you want some fun, give the name "Marco" and then snicker as the rest of the customers yell out "Polo" as the server tries to find you to deliver your food. We ordered the Chips & Chili Con Queso as a starter for $2.79. All meals are served with chips, but if you want something to dip them into, you have to order a starter. The Chili Con Queso is addictive, a gooey, cheesy dip with chilis served hot with chips. All the starters are chips & dips, others being mild salsa or guacamole or the Tijuana Trio that comes with all three. From the Little Lizards menu, we ordered a Cheese Quesadilla for both boys - LB's plain with just cheese and BB's with lettuce and tomato. Other choices on the kids' menu are burritos, tacos, nachos, and chicken fingers -- all including chips, a drink, and a "surprise" (usually a Pez dispenser and candy) -- all for $3.69. For adults, the choices are the standard Mexican menu standards such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, flautas, taco salads, nachos, etc. Prices range from $5-$8 depending on if you want ground beef, chicken or steak. Hubby and I both ordered the Dos Tacos, just the basic two tacos plus chips. There are some choices you need to make - crunchy or soft? what toppings (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, black olives, sour cream)? make it a meal for $1.99 (add rice, beans, and a soft drink)? make it wet for 99 cents (top it with queso, salsa or chipotle red sauce)? Since we didn't "make it a meal", we ordered drinks separately. I got a sweet tea and Hubby ordered a root beer. I love the drinks at Tijuana Flats because they are served with shaved ice, and somehow, it just tastes better that way. Beer and wine are also available. We took our drinks and went to find a table. The decor at Tijuana Flats is, how shall I describe it... psychedelic? Bright, day-glo paint with strange lizards and other creatures are painted on the walls. There is also a hot sauce bar in the center, a specialty of Tijuana Flats, with their own home-made sauce - "Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally" (yeah, try to explain that to your kids). There are also coloring sheets and crayons at the counter, just ask for them while you're ordering or ask one of the servers as they are passing by. Actually, that's what keeps us coming back again and again to Tijuana Flats - the service. The servers don't just yell your name and deliver your food, they also will take requests and will refill your drinks for you or get you another fork to replace the one that LB threw on the floor. I've had servers heat up our queso before (and top it off to boot!) as well as quickly replace an entire order of BB's quesadillas that LB pushed on the floor. We heard Hubby's name and waved over the server to get our main dishes. Hmm, what happened to our chips and queso? The server quickly rushed to the kitchen and brought us our starter - apparently, someone else with the same name had claimed our chips. That's happened before so try to come up with a unique name if the restaurant is crowded (like Marco - you won't miss your food then!) -- but like I said, the servers will quickly bring you any food that went missing. The boys did pretty good, with BB finishing 3 of his 4 quesadillas and LB only finishing one. Hubby and I polished off our two tacos and did a good job on the queso and chips too. Tijuana Flats is always a good place to eat with the kids at our house - check them out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Restaurant Review: Ginza Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar, W. Colonial Drive, Ocoee, FL

My oldest son (BB) has been begging to go back to the restaurant "where they make the food in front of you" so this past weekend, we did a mother-son solo dinner at Ginza Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar restaurant in Ocoee, FL. This is one of those Japanese Hibachi steakhouses where the chefs become the show and chop and cook your stir-fry dinner right in front of you at a large steel cook surface surrounded by seating on one side. Ginza also has a sushi bar area at the front of the restaurant, which is where Hubby and I go for sushi occasionally when we don't have the kids, but with kids you can't beat the dinner show at the back of the restaurant. As a "party of two", I knew we would be seated with other diners as the hibachi tables hold eight people a piece. We were seated with a family of six that had just sat down, which was good so we all ordered together. On a previous occasion, our family of four had to wait a bit until they seated another couple with us before our chef came out to start our dinner. If you happen to have a party of eight, you've got a full table and are ready to go. The hibachi dinners range in price from $12.95 for chicken to over $30 for filet and seafood. However, these are FULL dinners. They come with an light onion broth soup, a salad with ginger dressing, a grilled shrimp appetizer (you get two shrimp - kid dinners get one), fried rice, noodles, stir-fried veggies, and your chosen meal. Kids' hibachi dinners start at $7.95 for chicken and then go up accordingly. From what I can tell, they only get slightly less food than adults so we usually split one dinner between the two boys when they both come. The family of six sitting with us did the same - each adult ordered one dinner and then two kids dinners to feed the four kids. One warning when you do this, make sure you divvy up who is getting the soup and who is getting salad first - to avoid a fight later. The family next to us must be old pros at this restaurant, they knew to ask to substitute two soups for the two salads ensuring all four kids got a soup. BB chose the Shrimp dinner ($9.95) and I chose the Chicken. I figured Hubby would eat BB's leftover shrimps so I wasn't concerned. After we received our drinks (kids get theirs in a styrofoam cup with lid and straw), the soups came. This is a very light onion broth with a few mushrooms, scallions, and fried onions thrown in. All the kids at the table ate it, including BB. LB loves it too so it is a real kid-pleaser. One thing, if your child still sits in a high chair, like the youngest of our neighbor family, just be careful with the soup - the high chairs are actually a little lower than the hibachi table so they may need some help reaching their food. Next came the salad with creamy ginger dressing. BB ate it up as he likes ginger but the other kids at our table didn't want to try it so it's not for everyone. I love the ginger dressing and even saved some of the leftover dressing for my meal. Then, the main event, our chef came out. He immediately interacted with the table and got the kids involved by asking questions and making (very) corny jokes. Even I had to chuckle at a few such as the "Japanese egg roll" where he rolled an egg along the cook surface and "hey, watch the butterfly" when he flipped a pat of butter into the middle of the table. All the kids just watched, fascinated, as he made our fried rice, noodles, and the rest of the meal, depositing big spatulas full of food onto everyone's plates when that particular food was complete. I've seen several of the different chefs here and they each have their own "schtick", all corny, but somewhat funny all the same. They even make it fun when they are cleaning up the workstation, getting huge billows of steam to rise up to the ceiling. So, be sure to remind your kids to eat, too, while they are watching the show. But the majority of the eating happens after your chef has left and you are staring at a veritable mountain of food on your plate. BB did pretty good, finishing about half of his meal. I did better, eating about three-quarters of my food. Ginza also provides two sauces to go with your meal - a broth-based ginger sauce and creamy sauce for the seafood. Most folks preferred the creamy sauce, as do I, pouring it over my rice and chicken. Yum! Service tends to get a little slow at the end of your meal and we had to wait for the check and to-go boxes. They also provide you with "dessert" -- which is really just three small pieces of canned pineapple -- although I don't know how you could be hungry after your huge meal. Ginza has good food for a reasonable price and a great show for kids. I highly recommend it.

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