CombatCritic Reviews

CombatCritic Reviews
The Restaurants of Lawrence, Kansas

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Price Increases And Poor Service (Literally) Left A Bad Taste In Our Mouths

Zen Zero
811 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 832-0001
Prices: $$$$

Unfortunately, Zen Zero is owned by the same group that poorly manages Genovese (and La Parilla), a very sad excuse for an Italian restaurant a couple blocks down the street on Massachusetts. I hesitate to spend our money at Zen Zero only because of the unpleasant experiences we have had at Genovese, but there are not many options when it comes to decent, reasonably priced restaurants in Lawrence, so we bit my tongues and returned after a long layoff.
Zen Zero's decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of Asian influence in select pieces of art on the walls, warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting exotic sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers. As you can see from the photo below, the lighting is much brighter than I remember, ruining the ambience we used to enjoy beside hurting my light sensitive eyes.
Our server arrived with a customary basket of Asian rice chips, light and crunchy, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would have been nice, but seemed as though she did not seem overly eager to be there or serve us.
Sunday night used to be Zen Zero night in our house where draught beer is on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. They do not have a huge selection of drafts, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (e.g. Oktoberfest, Irish Red). I ordered the Irish Red (normally $4.50), two total over the entire meal. My wife had water.

The Fried Pork Momos (now $4.99) come with four dumplings and two sauces, a mildly spicy red tomato chutney and an almost white sauce that reminded me of very well-blended hummus. The Fried Chicken Spring Rolls (now $4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers. They were savory and crunchy, containing ground, seasoned chicken and, beside the small portion, they were also good. But having lived in McLeod Ganj, India for two months last year, a Tibetan colony and home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, I ate Tibetan food three times a day, every day. An order of momos there consists of eight, double the number at Zen Zero, they are much better, and only cost $2.50, one-quarter the price at Zen Zero.
Meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama - McLeod Ganj, India (December 8, 2014)
My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.99), a mixed vegetable stir-fry with broccoli, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, Napa cabbage, scallions, baby corn and tofu and served with Jasmine rice. It was light and not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arrabiata is as hot as it gets in Italian cuisine). The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce light yet complex enough to satiate the palate, but it left a strange aftertaste unlike when she has had it in the past. She could barely eat it and the server did not bother asking how our meal was or if there was a problem with the dish, bringing a to-go container and making us box it up ourselves.
I love curry and Zen Zero's Massaman curry (now $8.29, $10.28 with beef), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (no pork option), was as good a I remember. Having ordered my curry with the customary beef (an extra $2.99), the curry was rich and well seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork - $1.99 to $3.99 extra charge for meat or seafood) with potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not overly abundant in the beef department, I was not too disappointed because the thick curry sauce was nearly as good as the best I have ever eaten (the best was a similar curry at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s).
Our appetizers took quite a while to arrive and our entrees took even longer. I watched my wife's Phad Phak Ruam Mitr sit on the counter for at least ten minutes until my curry was finally ready, all the while our server was too busy talking on her cell phone to bring us our food and we had to wait even longer after my curry was finally ready.

When we had finished, I gave our server a coupon we had received (2nd dinner half-off with purchase of an entree and two drinks), she told me she did not think we could use it. I asked, "Why?", and she told me "You have to order two drinks to get the deal". To which I replied, "We did, I had two beers" (and a couple appetizers to boot) to which she responded, "I'll have to check with my manager to see if it's OK". Really? I should not have been surprised because Zen Zero is owned by the same group that owns Genovese where we had a similar incident a while back (they also refused to honor a coupon). I find myself wondering why the owners bother printing coupons if they are just going to have their servers hassle customers who try to use them.

Zen Zero had become a staple in our house and we may likely be returning in the future even though they have raised their prices rather significantly in the past year and the service was not nearly as good as it used to be. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome option, albeit a bit pricier than in the past.

I gave Zen Zero 9 Bombs Out Of 10 in a past review, but with deductions for their price increases, the delays in receiving our appetizers and entrees, the weird aftertaste in the Phad Phak Ruam Mitr, and being hassled by the server for using a coupon ...

CombatCritic Now Gives Zen Zero 6 Bombs Out Of 10 ... Bombs Are Good!

Six Bombs Equates To:
"Good To Go"

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Zen Zero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zen ZeroZen Zero

Title: Lawrence, Kansas: Price Increases And Poor Service (Literally) Left A Bad Taste In Our Mouths

Key Words: travel, value, product, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, zen zero, zen, zero, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Translation for Civilians: G2G = "Good To Go"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Overrated, Overpriced, and Underwhelming: This Bakery Sells Burnt Bread

1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe
1900 Barker Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66046
Phone: (785) 424-7609
Prices: $$$$

Only bread, pastries, and coffees/teas available here, no real food, so think "European" style cafe, not the American variety where you can find a sandwich, soup, or more on the menu.
I thought the other popular bakeries in town - if you live in Lawrence, you know which two I am thinking about - were expensive, until I stopped by 1900 Barker this morning.
I had heard they were a bit pricey, but that is an understatement! I paid $9 ($8.50+tax) for a loaf of (burnt) apple and raisin wheat bread, the most I have spent in my life in any of the 41 countries I have visited, including Switzerland, for a loaf of bread. Seems rather excessive to me.

It also seems as if everyone is giving 1900 Barker 5/5 Stars, jumping on the bandwagon for a new business off the beaten path. I think 5 Stars (Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, TABELog) are given out willy-nilly by far too many reviewers, but my ratings are based on "value", hence the name of this blog: "TravelValue", what you get in terms of quality, service and price. So based on their absurd prices alone, I cannot give them more than 4 Bombs (2 Stars), especially when I take into account that the bread was burnt, even more so on the bottom than the top.
I hope they succeed, I really do. I hate for any business to fail (with a couple of exceptions in Lawrence, but that's another review or two), particularly when they have large sums invested in a venture (the place used to be a run down laundromat). However, after the novelty wears off, people will require more value for their dollar. So, unless they bring their prices back down to Earth and stop burning the bread, I unfortunately do not see this venture being a long-term success.

CombatCritic Gives 1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe 4 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!
Four Bombs Equates To:
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Title: Overrated, Overpriced, and Underwhelming: This Bakery Sells Burnt Bread

Key Words: 1900 Barker Bakery And Cafe, 1900, Barker, bakery, cafe, bread, coffee, pastries, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, product, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: BOHICA = "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again!"

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Oh-Boy, A Po'Boy ... "Oy Vey!"

Terrebonne Po'Boys
805 Vermont St
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 856-3287
Prices: $$$$

I had been meaning to try Terrebonne for some time, but I try not to eat fast food and sandwiches that often, just never having gotten around to going there. My Yelp friend Scott T and I decided to get together for lunch, trying the relatively new Taco Stand on 8th Street. However, when we arrived the door was locked and the lights off ... they are closed on Mondays! So, we headed over to Terrebonne.

The place is quaint with a chalkboard menu on the wall, a few small 1950's diner-style tables and chairs inside and more tables outside if you are the type that enjoys Lawrence's steamy summer days. You order from the counter, pay, and they bring your order to your table. The guy at the counter was not particularly friendly, not rude, but he did not go out of his way to make us feel welcome being my first visit.

The reuben and cheesesteak both sounded good, but being my first time and a NOLA/Cajun/Creole-style establishment, I decided to go with their signature po'boy. I ordered the catfish po'boy ($7) with all the trimmings and Scott got the alligator po'boy and an order of red beans and rice.

About 15 minutes later our order arrived. The bread, about eight inches worth, was fresh, lightly toasted on the outside and soft inside. The catfish breading was not as light and flaky or as spicy as I would expect from a Cajun restaurant, but it was "OK". There were several small pieces of fish rather than one long fillet, making the sandwich difficult to eat and forcing me to have to put the pieces back in the sandwich as they inevitably fell out over and over again. The fish was decent, but a few pieces were uncharacteristically "fishy" tasting, a taste I try to avoid and one of the main reasons I do not order fish in the Midwest. The lettuce and tomato rounded out the po'boy nicely, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed overall by the sandwich and its price.

A $7 sandwich should impress and fill you, neither of which occurred on this occasion. By the time you order a sandwich, a side, and a drink, you are looking at a $12-$14 tab, a tad high for lunch at a sandwich place in my opinion.

CombatCritic Gives Terrebonne Po'Boys 5 Out Of 10 Bombs ... Bombs Are Good In This Case!

Terrebonne Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Title: Oh-Boy, A Po'Boy ... "Oy Vey!"

Key Words: Terrebonne Po'Boys, Terrebonne, po'boys, po'boy, po-boy, po, boy, sandwich, Cajun, New Orleans, Lawrence, Kansas, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Siam Feeling My Arteries Clogging After Eating Their Curry

Thai Siam
601 South Kasold Drive
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: (785) 331-2525
Website: Don't Have One
Prices: $$$$

This review will be shorter than most because I only had takeout for myself this time and the last time I tried to eat there, the lady would not let me in because I was there eight minutes before opening at 5pm, so I left. I should not have returned ... fool me once, shame on me (you know the rest).
I ordered egg rolls (2 for $2.25) and the Panang Beef Curry ($9.99). When I asked what was in the curry, I was told that there was "beef, curry, Thai basil, carrots and peanuts". I love beef, curry, basil and peanuts, but I do not like cooked carrots and they REFUSED to substitute potatoes or green peppers for the carrots. "We do not make substitutions" - not very flexible.
When I got home I found no peanuts in the curry, but in addition to the carrots there were red and green bell pepper and sliced jalapeƱos. No substitutions? Let me just say that it was not great. 

There was far too much fat (oil) floating on top and not nearly enough beef in the curry. I will say it once again for the second time in a week ... "hey Wendy, where's the beef?". In fact, there was so much oil that I skimmed 3-4 ounces off the top (see photos), all I could, and there was still too much fat. The flavor, once de-fatified, was not bad, but I can get a much better and cheaper Panang Beef Curry at Zen Zero for $1.70 less and I do not have to eat carrots.
The egg rolls were egg rolls, possibly made in house, but much like the curry, too greasy. I can feel my arteries clogging as I sit here writing this two hours later. If I die of a heart attack in my sleep tonight, tell my wife to sue Thai Siam.

CombatCritic Gives Thai Siam 3 Bombs Out Of 10 (Feeling generous, I rounded up to 2 Stars Out Of 5 for this Yelp review) ... More Bombs (or stars) Are Better!

Three Bombs Equates To:

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Title: Lawrence, Kansas: Siam Feeling My Arteries Clogging After Eating Their Curry

Key Words: Thai Siam, Thai, Siam, Thailand, Chinese, Lawrence, Kansas, Kasold, curry, fat, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: SNAFU = "Situation Normal, All Fucked Up"