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Taste & Value @ American Noodle Bar; Ambitious, Uneven Vino e Olio

Lee Klein kicks off his American Noodle Bar review in a curiously, pork-belly spiked Kafkaesque manner, but notes that chef/owner Michael Bloise "has undergone a metamorphosis" and so, it seems, did Klein, who says "I went whole hog on the daily selections, and a pulled pork sandwich with roadside barbecue flavor had me squealing with delight--and simultaneously squirming in pain." Burnt lip aside, Klein was able to forge on with a ballotine of pig's head whose " was fine, but the frying made it too heavy." Duck broth was "sumptuous," with noodles that were "perfectly cooked." A tofu noodle bowl "was marinated in a myriad of spices and was one of the best soy curd treatments I've tasted."

As for the cheeseburger dumplings, well, they "were unique and fetching in a fast-food way, but there was something too Jeno's pizza roll-ish about them," and the "Big mama egg roll didn't roll me over either, but the wrapper was cleanly and crisply fried." Speaking of fried, Klein says "I wouldn't mind seeing a couple less items from the fryer and more from the wok — such as, say, flash-sautéed bok choy, or other greens." Carrot cake and baked Alaska also delighted the reviewer, who concluded, "Most impressively, prices on the food menu top out at $9. That makes American Noodle Bar one of the best values in town. Locals now have yet another affable and affordable outlet for deliciously fresh Asian fare prepared by a talented and passionate chef." [MNT]

Miami Herald's Jodi Mailander Farrell steps in for VPE this week at Vino e Olio, which "sticks to its Tuscan roots with almost Orthodox fervor." While many of the restaurant's ingredients come from chef Andrea Menichetti's family farm, "The menu also boasts local sourcing, but Menichetti says he has struggled to find some ingredients that meet his standards, particularly zucchini ("No flavor," he says), which he scratched from the menu."

And while a lot of that menu worked for the reviewer--eel pâté "planted in a warm puddle of creamy celeriac sauce," "tender veal sweetbreads," roasted suckling pig, and "roasted lamb chops cooked to perfection," what didn't work were "high prices," "skimpy side dishes," "dense and dry dinner rolls," "earnest waiters lacking the know-how expected at a high brow restaurant," and "unimpressive pastas." Bottom line? "If the erotic body art hanging outside the restroom doesn't startle you, paying a lot for Italian peasant food may. An eggplant starter is an eyebrow-raising $17, and entrees average $30." 2.5 stars. []