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Apr 11 14

Pho 1 Grill [146]

by samichez

5E147C74-C3BD-4281-A71C-5210AC4C77C3Just barely west of Short Pump, nestled deep into a poorly planned shopping center, are a handful of small restaurants making a go of it. We really enjoyed Emilio’s, but it closed. Kabab Grille was good too, but it suffered the same fate. Seriously, this shopping center is a black hole. Last week we went back and Pho 1 Grill, undaunted by those that came before it, was ready and waiting for us.

While Pho 1 has a slightly modern feel, their menu is full of the Vietnamese staples you’d expect. Pregame with rolls and then jump into various broken rices, pho protein options and all the hot pepper clip art you could want. As a point of comparison, we ordered some of our regulars to compare them to the best in class Vietnamese we’ve had. Ethan started with a Fried Pork Spring roll that ended up being serviceable, but not recommendable. It was hot and flaky, but short on distinctive flavor.  It’s defining characteristic was that it was hot and had a sauce that added nothing to the mix.

IMG_20140321_115334970_HDRThankfully the Pho Sate that he followed up with was great. The broth was packed with distinct flavors and wasn’t just a salt bath for the contents within. The rice noodles were fine and the eye round beef was tender and well seasoned. I picked the Shrimp and Chicken Broken Rice and pretty underwhelmed. The portion was smaller than expected and the “fresh” veggies were limp and disappointing. The chicken was pounded flat and lacked any flavor beyond it’s grilling. The shrimp was the one bright spot in the meal. It was not overcooked and had big flavors on offer. Sadly the three of them on my plate could not save this meal.

Pho 1 Grill gets mixed marks from us. The service was fine, but our meals were good at best (the pho) and disappointing (broken rice) to mediocre (roll) otherwise. Already saddled with a poor location, Pho 1 needed to stand above the deep list Vietnamese restaurants in Richmond. On the day we went, it unfortunately failed to do so.

Lunch topics: GDC, Giant Bombcast, game development, PS3 launch woes, known shippable bugs, Titanfall, FiveThirtyEight, B.S. Report, Work, Stouts, Sip and Spin 2014R, Rattle, developing analytic skills, interviewing candidates for fit as well as competence
Pho 1 Grill on Urbanspoon

Apr 1 14

Mission BBQ [145]

by Ethan

Brisket, Classic #14, Maggies Mac & CheeseWe’ve never had a lunch quite as American as the one we had at Mission BBQ last week. Our friend Stephen tipped us to this new BBQ place at Broad & Glenside. We visited on Thursday, just three days after their opening. We frequently try places right after opening, and found no opening week jitters or lack of traffic. The staff was on point and Mission BBQ was bustling.

MissionBBQ4And so American! This was the most aggressively branded restaurant we have visited to date. A converted military truck with a smoker was in the parking lot, flags everywhere, a plaque to 9/11 victims on the front door, veteran medals and memorabilia throughout, and four college football jerseys on display on the wall (all military academies, naturally). Adam and I are both proud Americans, so none of this is a problem. And we’d say their branding is working… in the full dining hall, we spied off duty police officers and firemen. The whole thing felt authentic, if not very subtle. About the only un-American trait was the lack of one menu item (more on that later).

Jalapeno & Cheese Sausage, Turkey, Green Beans

Jalapeno & Cheese Sausage, Turkey, Green Beans

The line wound past a well-placed cooler of glass-bottle sodas. I spied root beer, Nehi, Coke, and throwback Pepsi, and more. All glass bottles and all on ice. Skipping these, we both ordered Two Meat Combos. I ordered Brisket and Classic #41 Sausage with a side of cashier-recommended Maggie’s Mac & Cheese. Adam ordered the other sausage available, Jalapeño & Cheese Sausage and Smoked Turkey with a side of Green Beans and Bacon. My brisket was dry, but it’s supposed to be and there are five sauces to choose from at every table. I liked it. And the sausage is standard fare, but well executed. And the recommended Mac & Cheese was very good; gooey and cheesy with breadcrumbs on top, just the way I like it. Adam’s turkey was surprisingly bland… surprising because we had both been offered a sample while in line and liked it immensely. We speculate that the samples are moist edge pieces chosen to disguise pedestrian center. [Ed. note: this next sentence went through many rewrites]. We traded sausage bites and agreed that the Jalapeño & Cheese tasted more interesting, but might be too aggressive a flavor for a whole plate of it. We’d recommend ordering half Jalapeño and half Classic #41 if they’ll let you. We both were highly disappointed with the cornbread and Adam also didn’t care for his beans, saying they were bland and boring and needed salt or pepper, neither of which were at our table.

Mission BBQ3The only thing stopping this from being a home run for America (baseball metaphor!) was the lack of beer. We very rarely partake at lunchtime, because we like our jobs and we like to be productive in the afternoons. But when we visit a new BBQ place, we always scout out the beer selection. Mission BBQ doesn’t serve beer. It’s not a requirement for a BBQ joint, but it’s more than a nice-to-have. Adam wasn’t blown away by Mission, saying that he was unlikely to return as it’s too close to other (beer-serving) BBQ joints that he prefers. I can see returning for a family meal… I very much enjoyed my meal and the atmosphere was fun and far from boring. But if it’s dinner time, I’ll miss pairing delicious meats with a brew.

Lunch topics: Titanfall, Skyrim & Fallout 4, slow adoption of nextgen gaming consoles by our target demo (dads with jobs and friends that already have 360s), the stratosphere of game developers that do the scutwork for big developers and fold shop when things go south, sous vide cooking, Last of Us on PS4, Giant Bombcast, making online friends (or not) in 2014, the evolution of online gaming in the mainstream, work

Mission BBQ on Urbanspoon
Mar 25 14

Enzo’s Italian Chophouse [144]

by samichez

photo1 (1)Go west, go real west, like past Short Pump west and surprise! There are still places to eat. Some really great ones as it turns out. Last week we went west and arrived at a grocery store strip mall to visit Enzo’s Italian Chophouse. You’d probably miss it if you were blazing down Broad looking for eats. We happened to find it on a referral from Friend of 52L Meg, and it has a favorable score on Urbanspoon.

Enzo’s was quiet and nearly empty the day we arrived for an early lunch. We were seated right away by a friendly server and were treated to a menu of great variety and possibility. Sticks in the mud that we are, we both ordered salad. It is worth mentioning, because they have sandwiches and pastas galore. We ordered salad.

IMG_20140227_120314762_HDREthan picked out the Blackened Mahi over Caesar Salad. He replaced the standard Caesar dressing with a vinaigrette, but ultimately it was still a standard salad. I won’t regale you with tales of crispy lettuce, but what truly did stand out was the fish. The mahi-mahi was perfectly cooked, still moist and fell apart in the mouth. It really elevated what would otherwise be a boring meal. I jumped in with the Grilled Chicken over House Salad and what I got did not elevate, levitate or otherwise rise above sea level. The chicken was tender and moist, but lacked any flavors of note. Not a bad salad, but nothing I’d drive an extra ten miles for.

Overall Enzo’s was a good experience. The prices were affordable, the service was prompt/friendly and the food was mostly good. The 80′s classic rock on rotation was not unwelcome and also typical for the area. Those kind things said, it is not the type of place you’d drive past other restaurants to get to. Not for the salads anyway. If you ever give a pasta dinner a fair shake out at Enzo’s though, let us know how it goes.

Lunch topics: Titanfall, Hearthstone, next gen consoles, SSD load times, work, Minecraft, strep

Enzo's Italian Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Mar 5 14

Ashland Breakfast & Lunch [143]

by Ethan

We tried to visit Ashland Breakfast & Lunch before and had trouble finding it. Google maps failed to lead us to this storefront in a strip mall in Ashland. We’re glad that we tried again because we found great food and a warm, comfortable atmosphere.

ABL doesn’t present like your typical eatery. The store windows are hand painted. We visited close to Valentine’s Day and the store front mural reflected that with a seasonal theme. This was a nice touch that lifted our spirits immediately.

ABL StudleyThe menu is straightforward, diner-style. Many good choices to choose from. Adam ordered Studley’s Homemade BBQ (a pulled pork sandwich). The sandwich had a great sweet BBQ taste with a hint of heat, which he liked a lot. The texture was a bit off.. a little too pasty, like it was overworked or extruded from a tube. But the taste beat out the texture; it was a good sandwich and was served with coleslaw on top. The slaw was good and crunchy and his only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of it. The meal was finished out with potato salad that presented a great tart taste, and featured more mustard than mayo with not too much of either. The salad really let the red potatoes (and their skins) shine.

Myself, I couldn’t resist adding another Sailor to my list. I’m always curious to see how another restaurant handles this Richmond staple, and ABL makes a good one. The knockwurst was smoked (rather than just pan-fried) which changed the character of the Sailor in a good way. The bread wasn’t too greasy, a typical mistake but not here. The sandwich was great and I had no trouble finishing it. As is often the case, the fries were fries, good enough but unremarkable. I didn’t need them with the size and quality of the Sailor.

Overall the food was good and incredibly affordable. It felt very small town diner, and we felt at home even though it’s not our normal style of dining.

Lunch topics: Minecraft, rumored XboxOne price drop, that LotR Assassins Creed clone, 10k training team, running watches, running shoes, personal data tracking, work, identifying a Cockney accent, The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Ashland Breakfast & Lunch on Urbanspoon
Feb 5 14

Cuisine a la Carte [142]

by samichez

sammyDriving down Patterson Avenue, you could miss Cuisine a la Carte 9 times out of the 10 you were looking for it. The signage is minimal and it is nestled into a nondescript shopping center. What you’d miss though, might be well worth your time and coin.

Similar to Homemades by Suzanne, Cuisine appears to be in service of catering first. The dining space is small and a little bit cramped actually. While the kitchen, which also is on the smaller side, dominates the space. Ordering is easy enough and set up as if one were ordering box lunches for a work conference. There are loads of options and most every one was appealing.

We picked our dishes out with the hesitation of missed lunch time opportunities. What arrived at the table though confirmed that we had chosen wisely. Ethan had the Herb Cheese Delight. A fantastic boursin cheese with bacon, red onions, lettuce and tomato sandwiched on two slabs of  pumpernickel bread. The contents ended up being a bit too stout for the soft bread. Ethan was adamant that he would order it again howerver, but on a harder roll. Chips, orange slices (well played) and a blondie joined into to make his combo. All were welcome. Especially the blondie.

I had the Wrapper’s Delight with potato salad and chocolate cookies on the side. The wrap was packed with chicken, turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato. A balsamic vinaigrette topped it off and made the meal. The bacon got second billing though, providing a great crunch and the texture the otherwise soft wrap needed. The potato salad was nothing to write home about, but the cookies before the wrap was the best choice I made all day.

Overall Cuisine a la Carte was an awesome surprise. It had been sitting on our list of places to visit collecting dust for months. When we finally cleared it off we were rewarded with meals that were delicious and affordable ($9 with dessert). We’d go back again and would recommend you give them a visit too.

Lunch topics: Assassin’s Creed IV, Humble Bundle, Magicka, GTA V, work, Letter 44, family updates, company Christmas party, Nowhere Men, Minecraft, screen time for kids, beer tracking

Cuisine a la Carte on Urbanspoon

Jan 28 14

Casa Grande [141]

by Ethan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur visit to Casa Grande was an accident. We’ve both been to this West End family-style Mexican restaurant many times, one of several in the area. It never surfaced as a 52L choice because it seemed too similar to other places we have reviewed. This day we tried to go to a new nearby restaurant, only to find it was not open for lunch. Casa Grande was nearby and known to serve food. We are suckers for carnitas.

Predictably, we both ordered the slow-roasted pork, which is served with the standard accompaniments of Mexican rice, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. And tortillas, which we never eat. Our readers might be better served with some variety, we’ll work on that in the future. Neither of us walked away impressed with Casa Grande’s version of the dish. CasaGrandecarnitasWe both found the meat to be fattier than average. Don’t get us wrong: we ate most of it anyway, but as Adam said, “It’s not a texture that adds to the meal”. The sides were serviceable, neither remarkably good nor remarkably poor. One thing in Casa Grande’s favor was the the portion sizes, which were generous. Adam was unable to finish his plate. I did, but it probably wasn’t advisable. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

In the end, Casa Grande checks the boxes it needs to without standing out in any one area. The service was good, not exceptional. The food was good, not exceptional. The value is there, and for that reason it’s worth a repeat visit if you’re in a group and looking for a place where no one will be disappointed. It’s not a destination but it’s there if you need it.

Lunch topics: work, QlikView User Group, Nelson Mandela – sports icon?, this strange NFL season, Santa, parenting, GT6, Red Dead Redemption, AC4, Max payne 3, COD:G, Kieron Gillen, Young Avengers, company ink

Casa Grande on Urbanspoon
Jan 20 14

Greek Cuisine [140]

by samichez

photo (1)

As you travel west of Parham Road on Patterson Avenue, it is rare to see new restaurants. When they do pop up though, we make an effort to get out to them. Such is the case with Greek Cuisine. In the same shopping center as Alexander’s BBQ, next to the Dairy Queen, Greek Cuisine recently put down roots. The second location in Richmond, after their first in Carytown.

The exterior and interior are in service of serving food. A simple look and pleasant enough place for lunch. Our food was delivered to us by a friendly staff and quickly too. There was a good size crowd the day we met our friend Meg, but we easily found a seat.

For eats we each got something a little different. A sampling of some Greek standards. Meg had the Moussaka, of the Greek eggplant variety and it was good, but not great. Ethan had the Pastichio, a stack of pasta, beef and béchamel sauce. The layers worked well together and offered a warm and filling meal. I had the Lamb Gyro Platter, which is essentially a de-constructed gyro. I think I prefer the fully assembled version. There was not much that wowed me in the flavor department. Not bad per se, but there is certainly better gyros on offer in the river city.

Greek Cuisine is not especially close to our office. Given that, I don’t imagine we will going back. We prefer Zorbas, Trak’s and 5 Star to be frank. That said if you are in the area or work out of West Creek, you could not go wrong with a lunch trip there.

Lunch topics: Hot!, Work, Thanksgiving plans, Tilt to Live 2, Gravity, Machine Era wallet, Richmond Children’s Museums, Richmond Half Marathon, GBS, energy gel v. bloks

Greek Cuisine West End on Urbanspoon

Dec 11 13

Maclean Restaurant [139]

by Ethan

meatloafIt’s easy to get distracted by trendy sushi places, the latest soup & salad franchise, and the abundance of great Vietnamese that Richmond has to offer. But every once in a while you notice that great diner that’s been around forever. Or maybe you don’t notice it at all, because its nondescript and timeless exterior renders it nearly invisible. We’ve been to one or two places like this and come away delighted. We’re not sure how we heard about Maclean Restaurant… it was probably its favorable Urbanspoon rating. Armed with GPS and address, we only drove by it once. That’s how unassuming it is. Seek it out and step inside, though. You’re in for a great home-style meal.

Maclean sports the requisite lunch counter and when you walk in you’ll swear it and its inhabitants have always been there. Service was as friendly as can be. Is the Open-Faced Meat Loaf Sandwich I ordered really the best thing on the menu? I wouldn’t be surprised, but maybe our server telling us so was just part of the charm. But maybe it really is. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy, it was exactly what I wanted from a southern-style diner. Warm and satisfying and gone way too fast.

roastbeefAdam had the Open-faced Roast Beef. At the time he remarked that the portions seemed small, but when I checked in with him later he felt full and quite nappy. The roast beef came covered with gravy (as you can see in the picture) which was easy to mix with the mashed potatoes. Adam ordered potato salad on the side, and while it was good, he admitted that he probably didn’t need it.

Maclean was a great meal that tasted and felt like your mom made it for you. As southern-style diners go, you can’t go wrong here.

Lunch topics: work, Grand Theft Auto V, GTA story-based game progress (instead of $$$), The Stanley Parable, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Orange is the New Black, Tested Octoberkast

Maclean Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Dec 6 13

Estilo [138]

by samichez

photoSix months ago we were dinning and writing up the now closed Bocca Toscana. A few months later we heard the owners of Toast were taking over the spot. We like Toast, it made our Hall of FameEstilo is what they opened and just a stones throw from their first location. Like its sister eatery, Estilo endeavors to take traditional dishes and turn them on their head. In its case upscale Latin American cuisine.

The bones of Bocca are still in place, but Estilo has a more vibrant feel. The modern, but warm aesthetic that we liked at Toast is present here as well. The wait staff was pleasant and the food came quick for a new spot. We started by splitting guacamole that came with the tortilla chips we expected and a surprising spread of pork rinds. They were still warm, not too oily and had a great crunch. The guac was more in line with our expectations, but that didn’t make it any less smooth or tasty.

Ethan’s lunch consisted of two tacos paired with a beer I forget now (a shame as they had a good selection). The Oaxacan Beef was his preferred pick. A great combination of poblano sauce and cilantro a top tender beef. Unfortunately the sauce wrecked the tortilla that delivered it. Carnitas was his other pick and was not bad, but a bit forgettable. Its tortilla suffered the same fate. I picked up two tacos as well with Hardywood’s Hoperation Pink. My Camarones was the real winner of the two.  A shrimp taco with a citrus jalapeno slaw that packed a punch of flavor and textures that played marvelously well. Sadly with high highs come low lows. The Venera taco was a real let down. Seared scallops, candied pancetta and cashews that were all bland. Top that with textures that had too much crunch for the soft tortilla.

Our trip to Estilo was very hit and miss. From one taco to the next we delighted in new flavors and were disappointed by others. At $4 a piece we expect a bit more consistency. In addition, it is hard to ignore extremely short walk down to Toast. Given the choice we might pick the elder sibling. If tacos are on your brain however, you’d be better served with the offerings at Habanero, Rocoto or Boka Kantina. Those are a fair amount of cards stacked against Estilo’s favor, but there’s an upshot. Their craft beer list is deep, you could take a date there and they are experimenting with new flavors you might not get anywhere else. If we do go back, we’d probably skip the tacos and try the fork food.

Lunch topics: Work, career paths, tablet recommendations for relatives, the mac store v. third party sellers, GTA V, Bioshock Infinite DLCOculus Rift, Daily Show, MBMBaMWelcome to Night Vale, men’s fashion (jeans and socks), how to keep a stock of beer and bourbon, Halloween, drinking and gaming, Morton’s neuroma

Estilo on Urbanspoon

Nov 18 13

Zoup [137]

by Ethan

3pepperAs you might expect, Zoup is a soup-and-salad place, new to the West End of Richmond last week. We found a restaurant with some early open jitters, a flow that takes getting used to, but a soup offering and gimmick that will keep at least one of us coming back.

We each took the “Take Two” option of a side soup and half-sandwich, standard fare. Zoup’s claim to fame is its variety of soups. They boast over a hundred soup recipes, but they only offer twelve each day and rotate through them. Offering twelve daily soups allows for variety beyond the standard “chicken noodle soup and French onion” that they’d have to offer daily with a static menu. Each soup was clearly labeled as appropriate for vegetarian, gluten-free, spicy, healthy, etc. They’re quick to offer samples if you’re having trouble choosing.

I was intrigued by the Chicken Pot Pie soup but settled on the Zesty 3 Pepper Chicken soup and Southwest Turkey sandwich on ciabatta. The bread was well toasted, but a bit greasier than it should have been. Although the menu didn’t label the sandwich as spicy, I expected a sandwich with Chipotle mayo and pepper jack cheese to have some kick. It had none. Still, good bread well-toasted usually means “good sandwich” and that was my impression here.

The spiciness of the sandwich might have been overpowered by the soup, which I’d rate as a solid Medium (or a Supermarket Salsa “Hot!”). This tomato-base soup had a great consistency and kick and it was gone before I knew it. I finished my entire portion of soup before getting to the halfway point on the sandwich, which is not normal. The only low point for me was the bread that came with the soup which was clearly thawed from frozen, dry and bland. And also the wrong bread: I got Adam’s “sourdough” and he got my “French” and we didn’t notice because they were equally inconsequential. And I airquoted those on purpose, the sourdough was merely suggestive of that style.

lemonlentilAdam ordered the Lemon Lentil soup and a Turkey Club sandwich. He described the soup as good and healthy and acknowledged that a less healthy soup might have been better, but it was tasty all the same. Good texture to the lentils (they weren’t mush) and the lemon and pepper worked well together. He was severely disappointed in his sandwich. The club was a flavorless mess between merely “ok” toasted bread.

In the end, 52L could not reach consensus, a rarity for us. Adam said he’d never return, clearly preferring Panera, which is the obvious comparable for this place. Adam rarely gets a soup at Panera, sticking to sandwiches and salads (we did not try a Zalad). I agree that Zoup’s sandwiches do not merit a switch, but I love a good soup and this was a great soup, better than any I have had at Panera. I am also intrigued by Zoup’s soup menu gimmick. I can see myself returning to Zoup, but perhaps not with Adam.

Lunch topics: Call of Duty: Ghosts… ” an accountant’s sequel“,
GTA V, dedicated servers explained, the crappiness of PSN, why we’ll never have cross-platform online play, Planet money on payday loans and Amazon vine, Amazon pricing checking and algorithm, designing visualizations around data and vice versa

Zoup! on Urbanspoon