Tuesday, February 25, 2014

This is the best?

Godai Sushi Bar & Restaurant
11203 West Avenue
(between Lockhill-Selma and Blanco Road)

My friend Rick, who seems to have an encyclopædic knowledge of these things, says that Godai Sushi has won awards for years and years. Having now been there only once, my wife is convinced that their awards are for Longest Menu, as we were neither of us much impressed by the food, or service, or prices. Or the atmosphere, for that matter.

I don't pretend to be an expert on sushi as a cuisine. (Well, okay, maybe in some conversations with strangers I do pretend, but not here, not with you, my dear loyal readers, critics, fans and followers.) I'm a latecomer to the genre, and have only had sushi perhaps two dozen times over the last two or three years, mostly here in town but also in California and New York and other, less worldly and serfistikated venues. That may seem like a lot, but it's not, really, so I'm clearly not qualified to rate the sushi qua sushi. I rate it merely as food, like any other type.

Godai is certainly a popular spot. We showed up around 7pm on a Friday evening and had to wait only briefly, but by the time we left the line was well out the door. I've not seen that kind of sushi fan base anywhere else in town. But now that I've tried "the best," I wonder why those people are there.  The food is, in a word, bland.

last city inspection: January 2014
13 demerits
We decided on chicken teriyaki, beef yakisoba, a bagel roll and a sunset roll. This turned out to be quite a lot of food, and if it had been superior food we'd have been very happy, both at dinner and over lunch the next day. The teriyaki was reasonably well prepared, but lacking in seasoning of some sort. The salt and sugar were there in some measure, but the characteristic rice-wine flavour of mirin was absent. Similarly the bagel roll (salmon, cream cheese and avocado): the flavours were all there, but their combination was lackluster and unsatisfying. (Another small complaint: the roll was quite large and cut in relatively few pieces. With the hard-to-penetrate outer wrap layer, it was consequently difficult to eat, as it was too large to fit in my mouth -- I can only imagine what a person with a normal, more petite orifice might do -- and too tough to bite through into pieces.) 

The flavours of the beef yakisoba were pleasant enough, including those of the vegetables mixed in with the noodles, but in the case of that dish the failing was the texture of the meat, which was dry and overcooked in places. 

The one bright spot was the sunset roll, a mix of salmon, crab, cucumber and avocado. The menu says there were lemon slices in between that make the roll look like its namesake, but I didn't notice that. I noticed that the delicate flavours of this roll blended quite marvellously, making for a complex and coherent entrée, as good as I've had at any of the various sushi bars I've been to. It may be that everyone who voted in whatever poll resulted in this restaurant's awards has had their sunset roll.

Otherwise, the restaurant was unremarkable. The décor is moderate; compared to the other sushi restaurants in town that I've reviewed here, it's downright downscale, yet comfortable. It's an older building that seems to have been built out in the country and then been unexpectedly surrounded by the slag of suburbia. Gives it a certain survivor-in-good-stead appeal. The service was effective if a little hit-or-miss. We seemed to wait a good long time before our waiter made an appearance; so much so that, by the time he came 'round, we had imprinted on a helper of some sort and wondered why he seemed disinclined to wait on us. Our actual waiter had no hesitation in recommending the chicken teriyaki over the beef yakisoba, but the failure of both dishes to impress leaves us questioning his value as an advisor.

Finally, the prices seemed a little high. Normally, when we go out to dinner and don't get alcoholic drinks, our bill for a place like this will run about $40 for the two of us; the bill at Godai, including tip, was just over $50, and looking back on the evening, I see nothing to justify the added cost.

Godai Sushi Bar and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Another Dud

Jimmy's Egg
8055 West Avenue
(at Lockhill-Selma, in Castle Hills)

Imagine tweaking a Denny's menu and serving it up in an IHOP dining room. Now hit the "Pause" button, and you have the essence of this franchise restaurant in the leafy suburb of Castle Hills. Short of just being there, it has nothing in particular to recommend it; and that one asset is only of value if you, too, are there, and hungry.

I only found the place because my friend Rick had passed it, on the way to or from some appointment (of a medical variety, most likely; not that it matters) and noted the name. That, and a desperate desire to alleviate the boredom of life in general, seemed like sufficient justification for the four- or five-mile journey into the mostly settled area of generally prosperous sprawl that oozes across Loopland. What a waste of perfectly good gasoline that turned out to be.

In aspect, it is unremarkable but acceptable: clean, well-lit, decorated by a minimalist who shops at Hobby Lobby. The kitchen, full of bright, clean stainless steel, is visible beyond the dining room, just like at any Jim's. No innovation went into the design of this restaurant, because this standard sort of layout is perfectly serviceable: no innovation is needed. And there's no real profit in it. Lots of windows looking out on the tree-shaded parking lot, and even a patio off the side, for those who might find the traffic noise from Lockhill-Selma tolerable. Booths and tables are lined up in neat rows, giving a spacious feeling to the dining room. Noise levels were unremarkable, and we were not distracted by being forced to eavesdrop on conversations at nearby tables. (What's the world coming to, when that fact even presents itself for notice?)

We were guided to our table by the young man who turned out to be our waiter. He presented us with menus, took our drink orders, and returned momentarily with coffee and water, ready to take our order. We, of course, had not even begun to scan the somewhat long and involved menu, what with its array of breakfast and lunch classifications. Hot Off the Griddle! Let's Wrap! Jimmy's Favourites! Fresh Crisp Salads! Build Your Own Omelette! And so on. I had noticed something named as a special on the white-board by the entrance, and asked the waiter what it was. He didn't know, and couldn't read the board from where he stood, so he went off to ingest its content. Soon he was back to tell us what it said and what it meant. It didn't interest either of us, so we turned our attention back to the menu, and the waiter turned his attention to other things.

I chose Biscuit Debris: basically, biscuits and gravy with two kinds of meat, and cheese, and potatoes on the side. Rick went for one of the Combo breakfasts of eggs with sausage and ham, served up with home fries and "homemade" white toast.

While we waited for our food, we noticed the staffing of the place. There were three people in the kitchen, three waiters, a guy who appeared to be a manager, and another guy who appeared to ... well, we're not really sure. He seemed to do everything except bus tables. But all those employees seemed to have a great deal of trouble getting things right. We observed three separate occasions when the wrong orders were delivered to customers. In our own case, the wrong food seemed an improvement over no food.

The City of Castle Hills doesn't appear
to post restaurant inspection reports.
The manager-type guy brought around a coffee pot and refilled our cups. We drank that and continued waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Manager-type passed by again with a coffee pot, but didn't even look in our direction. Our own waiter was firmly rooted at the wait-station in front of the kitchen, his back to the dining room. Finally we knee-tackled a waitress at another table and asked for more coffee, which was brought, and still our food didn't appear. Hey, we're talking breakfast food here, and nothing that takes longer than three minutes in a moderately well-organized kitchen.

We were at the point of weighing our options -- do we just leave, or should we make a scene of some kind? How much do we owe for just the coffee? -- when finally our waiter dislodged himself to delivered two plates to our table. We were only a little surprised to discover that what we got was actually what we ordered. The waiter promised to bring more coffee (he never did) and left us to it.

Loquacious though I usually am, I am reluctant to waste words describing most of the food on those plates. Everything, except the home fries and Rick's toast, was thoroughly ordinary and unremarkable: acceptable in quality, quantity and preparation, but otherwise undistinguished. Okay, I will give half a mention to the cream gravy, which successfully avoided all the things that so often make that rather simple accoutrement unacceptable. It had good consistency and flavour, and wasn't overdone. The home fries, on the other hand, were slightly undercooked and massively underseasoned. The first bite seemed gritty; I'm going to hope it was a bit of crusted potato peel. After that, they were just bland.

Judging from the menu, Jimmy's Egg takes great pride in serving "homemade" bread (white, and cinnamon raisin). This presumably means that the dough is mixed and shaped at some remote location and shipped to franchise operators around the country in some state resembling suspended animation, so they can throw it in the oven and, by providing that last step in the production process, call it homemade. Subway does the same thing; so do a host of other restaurants. It's nothing to get excited about, and when you get right down to it, that sort of shameless boosterism seems a little pathetic; like an admission that there's not anything genuine to promote. And in the event, the bread was unsurprisingly flavourless.

And as we were leaving, the guy who seemed to do a little of everything was apologising to a customer because his order had been screwed up.

Jimmy's Egg on Urbanspoon