Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Restaurant Review - Panera Bread, 2260 East Highway 50, Clermont, FL

There's a new Panera Bread location that opened up in Clermont, right near the intersection of Hancock Rd and S.R. 50., next door (literally) to the Carrabba's. I've been to Panera before, mostly the Sand Lake Rd location, sometimes the one at Millenia Mall, and while it is fine if I'm in the area, I usually don't "crave" the food there. I'm just not one of those organic sandwich/salad eaters. But, Grandma and Grandpa called and said Panera has a new product called the Crispani and it was really good, so I gathered up the boys and we headed to Clermont to meet Grandma and Grandpa for dinner.

The Crispani is basically Panera's version of a flatbread pizza (with organic ingredients of course). This Panera offered three different versions - three cheese, tomato and basil, and sweet sausage with roasted peppers. The Tomato and Fresh Basil Crispani looked really good in the photo - slices of tomatoes, leaves of basil, and chunks of mozzarella cheese baked onto a flatbread crust. I then checked the kid's menu on the menu board - there are three offerings: Grilled Cheese on whole grain bread with organic American cheese, Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich on whole grain bread made with all-natural peanut butter, and the Kid's Deli Sandwich on, you guessed it, whole grain bread with a choice of deli meat and, yes - you guessed again, organic American cheese. For $3 - $4, each Kid's Meal comes with a squeezable organic yogurt tube and a choice of organic milk, organic chocolate milk, or apple juice (I'm guessing it is organic as well). I asked the boys what they wanted and LB said he wanted the Grilled Cheese. BB wasn't happy with any of the choices (he's like me, not big into organic stuff) so we decided to share the Crispani (it looked big). When I went up to order, the server told me that the Crispani takes a little longer than the other items at Panera so they would give me a number to put on my table and deliver it when it is ready. She suggested getting a soup or half salad to start and that by the time we are done, the Crispani should be ready. That sounded good to me so I ordered a cup of the Wild Rice and Creamy Chicken Soup for $3.29 to start and then the Tomato & Basil Crispani for $6.99, and then LB's Grilled Cheese. Grandma and Grandpa decided to share the Sausage & Pepper Crispani.

We sat down in the "living room" section of the restaurant - that's usually the section in the front of Panera that has smaller round tables and sometimes couches. There were other kids there running around so I figured my kids wouldn't disturb anyone in that section. A few minutes later my name was called - our soup and LB's Grilled Cheese was ready. The soup was really good, very creamy and flavorful - BB liked it too. LB wasn't too keen on the Grilled Cheese. He took one bite and then just drank his chocolate milk. I tried it and I could see why he didn't like it... it tasted too... organic and wheaty. Not like the greasy grilled cheese sandwiches I'm used to! LB didn't want his strawberry yogurt either so BB actually asked for it and ate the whole thing.

About ten minutes later, our Crispani(s) were delivered to the table. LB perked up at that point and declared that he wanted some pizza, too. The flatbread pizza was good - not too crunchy, not too chewy, with nice big chunky toppings -- and, it didn't taste organic, even if it was. Also, because of the flatbread crust, it made it really easy for the kids to pick up and eat. Grandma and Grandpa liked their Sausage & Pepper Crispani as well. They both said they didn't like it at first because the sausage and caramelized onions really did make for a sweet taste at the beginning. But they said the taste really grows on you and they ended up liking it. There ended up being enough pizza for all of us, I realized, so next time, I will skip the kid's meal and just get the Crispani for all of us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Restaurant Review - Gekko Japanese Restaurant, 13900 C.R. 455 #109 A, Clermont, FL

Gekko Japanese Restaurant is a new sit-down restaurant in the Publix shopping center at the corner of S.R. 50 and C.R. 455 in Clermont. It's a nice looking place with a sushi bar on the right and tables going down the left side of the restaurant. We've been to dinner there twice now and both times there was a mix of retirees, families with young kids, and couples/singles -- so I didn't feel out of place taking my boys. Grandma, Grandpa, the boys and I went there on a recent Thursday night for dinner and I should have taken the hint that there might be a time issue on that night. Friends of Grandma and Grandpa were there and said they had already been waiting an hour and hadn't gotten their food yet. But, we were already there and I was hoping maybe the restaurant would work their timing issues out - besides, we hadn't had issues the first time we had ate there (although it had been less crowded on the other night we had went).

We were seated and started to peruse the menu. Although Gekko doesn't have a separate children's menu with activities, they do have children's offerings on their menu, which is somewhat unusual for a sushi restaurant. There's a "Sushi for Kids" for $7.95, which includes one shrimp sushi, one crab sushi, one egg sushi, and a California roll -- all of which are cooked and not raw sushi. Then there's Beef Teriyaki for $7.95 and Chicken Teriyaki or Chicken Katsu for $6.95. All kids meals come with miso soup, house salad with ginger dressing, and white rice (except the sushi that already has rice). That's actually a lot of food so the price is pretty reasonable, although still on the high side. Dinner entrees for adults run from $13.95 to $17.95 and include items such as teriyaki and tempura made with chicken, seafood or beef. Dinner sushi entrees are more pricey and go from $15.95 to $22.95, not including the Sushi and Sashimi Boat for 2 that has, if you pardon the pun, a boatload of raw fish for $55.95. I wasn't sure I would be able to eat a whole sushi dinner (probably 15 or so pieces of sushi) since I wasn't that hungry, so I ordered off of the al a carte sushi menu and got a Rainbow Roll for $8.25. A Rainbow Roll is basically a California Roll (cooked crab, avocado, and cucumber rolled in seaweed and rice) topped with strips of raw fish such as tuna, salmon, and yellowtail. However, I love miso soup (a soy-based soup with tofu and seaweed) and ginger dressing so I ordered an al a carte soup ($1.75) and house salad ($2.50) as well. BB ordered the Chicken Teriyaki (grilled chicken cooked in a sweet soy sauce-based marinade) and LB asked for chicken fingers - whoops! The server said the Chicken Katsu is basically like sliced chicken fingers - just a boneless breast of chicken breaded, deep-fried, and then sliced. So we ordered the Chicken Katsu for LB. Grandpa ordered the Sushi Dinner for $15.95 (chef's assortment of sushi) and Grandma ordered the Chicken Tempura (deep-fried chicken and vegetables) for $14.95. The server left... and then... we... waited....

Twenty minutes later (yes, I'm not joking) our soups and salads finally arrived. Thank goodness because the boys had already been getting antsy. We quickly asked for the special "kids" chopsticks and luckily received them quickly. Usually, one of the sushi chefs will take a regular pair of chopsticks and, using the rolled up paper the chopsticks come in and a rubber band, will make a pair of chopsticks that any kid (and grown-up who doesn't know how to use chopsticks) can use - even my 3-year old. BB loves Japanese food and quickly ate most of his soup and started to work on his salad. We were all surprised when LB decided that he liked the miso soup. He especially liked the tofu - that he called "squeezies" - because they squished between his fingers. Of course, he didn't touch the salad or the seaweed in the soup (he doesn't like "green" food). After he dug through his soup and realized he had eaten all of his "squeezies" he started to ask for ours. I gave him all the tofu I had but he was really upset that there wasn't more. Mental note for next time - I will ask for extra tofu in his soup. Then... we... waited... again...

Forty minutes after our appetizers had arrived, the kids' meals and Grandma's meal arrived. I was actually outside when it came, trying to get LB to run off some energy on the sidewalk. So finally, the boys could start eating. The boys' meals were served in really cute Hello Kitty covered dishes. I thought that was a nice touch. Grandpa and I both looked at each other at this point thinking, hey, where's our food? I mean, we both got SUSHI -- you know, raw fish?? Doesn't need time to cook?? Five minutes later our meals finally arrived. The fish on the Rainbow Roll was pretty good but either the cucumber or the avocado was not quite ripe enough so the roll itself wasn't as soft as I was expecting. The boys did pretty well, although both were not that hungry anymore because of the long wait between entree and appetizer. I was able to flag down the server so we could get our check because I didn't want to have to wait for that as well. To be honest, if this had been our first time eating at Gekko, I probably wouldn't go back. But everything was fine the first time we came, so I'll probably try again one more time and make my decision then. At least, I know there is a place I can go for sushi and still have things that the boys can eat as well.

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