A place to learn about local restaurants, reviews, recipes, and news about the food industry. My mission is to inform, inspire, educate, and entertain.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Winner Winner Sushi Dinner (or Lunch)

When my friend Nick Tsalikis from Greek Islands Grill in San Tan Valley asked me if I have been to the new Sushi place in Copper Basin I said "what Sushi place." No I said ... didn't know there was one. Well, he said we have to go there. So we make a date to go there (little did I know he's already been there a couple times) and we met to try this place.

As I walk in I see a familiar face. Nancy Rolnick-Herbert otherwise known as Sweets Rolnick was sitting talking to owner Connie Lee. She waves and says OMG we were just talking about you. Voila. (You should never talk about me unless you want me to appear. Just like the State Farm agent). Nancy has helped many a small business get started with publicity through her local publication called "My Local Magazine". She said she was just telling Connie about a guy she knows who writes reviews on local restaurants. So we proceed to chat and then Nick arrives and we're ready to order lunch.

First I notice upon walking in how inviting the place looks. Very clean and modern looking, not very big but simple and straight-forward. It feels comfortable. Staff is very friendly and helpful. Both Nancy and Connie made some suggestions to try. Nick already knew what he wanted. So we order and sit down to chat while we're waiting.
Teriyaki Chicken & Beef

Then the orders start coming out, one by one, freshly made and not sitting around waiting to be served. First out was my Teriyaki Bowl of Chicken & Beef. Looks and smells great. Couldn't wait for the other dishes so I take a few bites and liked it right away. Great flavor, not overpowered by teriyaki sauce. Just the right blend of flavors.

Next out Nick's Shrimp Tempura starter. Japanese style tempura lightly breaded with a dipping sauce. Just right for an appetizer. Now we're ready for the custom sushi rolls to start coming out. Here's the Rainbow roll. Nicely presented with tuna, salmon, avocado on top of a California roll with crabmeat inside. Looks good enough to eat ... right? It was! Comes with pickled ginger and wasabi mustard. Soy and sriracha is also on the table. 
Now comes the Vegas roll with cream cheese, avocado, crabmeat and then deep fried with a light crust. BINGO. What a winner. 777. Great combination of flavors with a great texture that melts in your mouth. I've been to many upscale sushi places and it's hard to beat the value here for fresh Asian fare.

We are well on our way to being full. And, we haven't eaten everything because there's more coming. I had to gladly take food home to share with my wife. So Connie surprises us with another roll she said will be on the menu soon. but wanted our opinion. Sure, I'll be your guinea pig anytime you want to try something new.

It's called the Suki Roll. Inside - spicy crabmeat, cucumber, shrimp tempura TOP - spicy tuna, crunch, spicy mayo, eel sauce, sweet chili sauce. It was over the top.


Needless to say we had a great lunch that was high-quality, tasted great, served by friendly staff and at a great value. What else can you ask for. This is what San Tan Valley needs.

However it isn't just about the food. I love to hear the back stories of how restaurants like this get started.

From what Connie told me is that in 1992 her husband Jeff (I like him already) and her started their very first business in an airport in Alaska. It was an All-American dine in restaurant, from breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Being South Korean natives, and coming only a few years prior to opening the restaurant, it was a great feat for them to learn and adapt to what American food was.  In the end, they learned the love for American dining and realized that the restaurant business was their calling.  

"We had such great success, but after a few years, it was time for us to move on to our next business." Connie said.  "We moved back to California and had a couple new businesses, and then in 2009, made our way to Arizona.  Jeff was able to learn Japanese foods, resulting in the foods we serve at Kiyoshi, while managing a Japanese restaurant in Arizona.  With his new found skills, he wanted to begin another journey to starting up a new business once again.  After months of searching, we came upon a quaint little town not too far from Gilbert, our home, and saw a speck of light for what was to come."  "San Tan Valley had so much potential, with so many in search for a new taste of Asian foods." So, with the help of so many kind San Tan Valley friends, they were able to put everything together and felt so welcomed to the community.  "It wasn’t easy, and definitely didn’t happen overnight, but now my family and I are so appreciative to everyone who helped to make the start of Kiyoshi so delightful."

Don't you love happy beginnings?



Teriyaki & Sushi
2510 E Hunt Hwy. #13
San Tan Valley 85143
480-750-3628
https://www.facebook.com/KiyoshiAZ/?fref=ts

Friday, January 30, 2015

Local Home Bakers Take Pride In Their Goods


Jasmine Necker

I always knew that good food starts at home. When you grow up in a family that worships food more than religion you got to figure they know a thing or two about cooking. Not everyone can or wants to be an accomplished Chef but I’ll bet there are some pretty darn good ones out there.

For example, being the foodie I am I needed to be connected to resources that talk, show, teach, and review food. That’s where Facebook comes in. Where else can you see something and almost make an instant connection? Being locally-minded I’m in a bunch of “food” groups and I like to monitor all the home cooks and bakers making things in their kitchens. And sometimes commenting about how good something looks.

After seeing some of the same people making goodies and selling them to locals I began to wonder just how good some of these things really are. People were writing in saying how good their salsa was or empanadas. Then there were tamales or even perogies. Then the sweet stuff. OMG! Cakes, breads, cupcakes, cookies, cheesecake, flan and fudge. I had to try everything. But wait, I’m a diabetic and sugar is my enemy. Well maybe I’ll try just a little.

Then I saw one baker who was looking to give (as in free) a tray of cinnamon rolls or banana bread to some needy families during the holidays and that got my attention. I asked if I could sponsor 1 or 2 of those gifts to random people in our community. So I arranged to give them by way of this woman. And by the way I’ll take a banana nut bread for myself. I have made banana bread all

different ways for years but this took the cake. I’ll never have to make one myself again as long as she continues to make them. Sooo incredibly good. Rich, moist banana flavor with walnuts. You can tell she took no shortcuts with the ingredients. Honestly, probably the best I’ve had. I sure hope she is still making them. And I never got to try her cinnamon rolls or bread she also makes.










If you want to treat yourself look up Jasmine Necker at https://www.facebook.com/JazzysBakeShop


Liz Tileston Cuillard

At the same time I discovered Jasmine another home baker was active on Facebook. She made similar baked goods yet different. I think they’re even friends. When she saw Jasmine was making things for me to give away she offered to do the same thing and also offered me some of her goodies.

There are no words to describe how delicious her stuff is. First there were (and I mean past tense) cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip rolls in the same pan. Look at the picture. How can that not be good?



When they’re fresh and moist you can’t stop eating them. Next day pop it in the wave for just 10-12 seconds and they’re fresh as new.

And let’s not forget the cheesy jalapeno bread. Beautiful and her creations are excellent. Rivals any of the best bakeries.


What’s her secret? “I love to bake, and bread is one of my favorite things on this planet”. Back in California, her best friend Carla and she took an old family dough recipe and tweaked and twisted it until it was their own. When they tried braiding it and added chocolate chips, ta da! A star was born. Chocolate chip bread was their first creation, and is still her favorite to this day.

“Now Carla bakes out of her home in Las Vegas, and I bake out of my home here. We still share recipes and baking tips. When we moved to Queen Creek, I saw the desire for homemade food. It was huge! This is a hungry community. As a stay at home Mom I was looking to make a little extra money doing something that allowed me to be home with my two young children. And no one was making any kind of bread. After developing a few new flavors (which my neighbors were glad to taste test) I took orders for my braided bread and the rest is history. I’ve met some amazing people on this journey and hope to keep it going for many years to come.”

“I make everything from scratch the day the item is picked up and only use fresh ingredients (no preservatives or artificial flavors or colorings). I have my food handler’s card, am registered with the Arizona health department and adhere to the cottage law guidelines of food that can be sold out of a private home.”

To see everything Liz is making go to https://www.facebook.com/braidedwithluv

If you're cooking or baking from home, whatever you do please follow strict food safety guidelines and follow all applicable local ordinances. FOOD SAFETY FIRST!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How To Have A Nice Lunch On Christmas Eve Day - Valentino's Style

First question one might ask ... what's a nice Jewish boy writing about food on Christmas Eve? Easy to explain. Hannukah is over and I have nothing better to do. Unless of course I want to go have some Chinese food tonight. Nah, it's just Charlie and me and I don't feel like going out. Besides I am still full from a great lunch at Valentino's with some pretty impressive people.

One advantage of being a foodie is recommending places to eat. Let's face it ... there's not many great choices to eat out this way especially at lunch unless you're up for fast food and that gets tired quickly. So when I had the opportunity to suggest a place Valentino's must have been on my mind. It also helped that it was closer to the VIP's I was meeting. 


It's not often you get to meet and eat with the County Attorney Lando Voyles, Sheriff Paul Babeu, and the President of the Arizona Public Safety Foundation Joe Trasser. I feel very fortunate to be in the midst of their presence for all they have done for Pinal County. However, this isn't a political message but rather a review of some good chow. Sufice to say that only good things for our community will be a result of our meeting.

So you might ask what do VIP's eat for lunch. No not Wheatie's, that's for armchair quarterbacks. The same thing you and I eat. Good food. Can you guess by looking at these four dishes who ate what?


OK give up? First dish on the upper left is a Chicken Vermont Panini ... Breaded chicken breast topped with apple-smoked bacon baked with Vermont cheddar cheese, marinated plum tomatoes, lettuce and a pesto mayonnaise. Made for a big guy like me.

Bottom left: Chicken Parmigiana ... Breaded, boneless breast of chicken topped with Valentino's Original tomato sauce, baked on a demi loaf with provolone cheese. So good the guy with the badge almost arrested the owner as his own chef.

Top right: Mediterranean Salad ... Fresh romaine lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepperoncini peppers, Kalamata olives and feta cheese  served with Valentino’s Original Italian vinaigrette dressing and marinated charcoal-grilled chicken.The chef's going away for a very long time if he doesn't please this guy.

Bottom right: Antipasto Salad ...Fresh mixed greens with imported Italian meats, cheeses & olives tossed in Valentino’s Original Italian vinaigrette dressing. This guy heads up a company that offers Crime Scene and Biohazard Cleanup. Good thing the food was great ... no mess to clean up here. The plates are all clean.

Remember, food is a great equalizer. If only more people would put their passion into food the world would be a better place. Bon Appetit!

Valentino's Eatery
3385 North Hunt Highway, Florence, AZ 85132
Phone:(520) 723-5910

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Miami - Globe Arizona Mexican Food at its Finest – Guayo’s Elrey

Who knew? Unless you're from around these parts who knew that the Miami-Globe area was a mecca for authentic Mexican fare? Well, apparently this is not new to locals or visitors from afar. I have lived in Arizona for going on 11 years and have had my share of Mexican food ... some good and some not so good. I have heard about the area but until now I never made it up there. What a waste of 11 years. Fortunately, I asked a new friend to AZ what he had a taste for this last Saturday and he replied Mexican. Go figure. A Chicago boy like me, Rich has had his share of big city Mexican food but this was my opportunity to brag about how good OUR Mexican food is. Of course I was sticking my neck out because I've never eaten at any places in Miami or Globe but this was my chance to find out.

Saturday morning I posted a question on the "I love Globe-Miami Mexican Food!" Facebook page and asked "OK so I'm going up to your area to do a Food Review today at lunch.
What's your top choice of restaurants and top dish I should order". Little did I know that I started a firestorm of replies that boggled my mind. I had no idea that I would receive such instant and passionate responses ... more than 100. After hearing about all the favorite places and dishes from everyone, I finally had to reply that I needed to leave to drive up there so I wouldn't be monitoring this post. That didn't stop people from posting.

It was a very difficult decision. Where to go for lunch. Only one place out of many? We could have spent a week eating our way from Superior to Globe. So based on the comments we decided to stop at Guayo's El Rey in Miami. We thought OK lets stop here a have a quick meal and go to another place and try something different. Never made it beyond Guayo's. The food was so damn good there we filled up and couldn't keep going. Which is a good thing because that means we're coming back! 

We were barely seated and the server greeted us with drinks and Chips & Salsa's. Are you kidding me? Flour tortilla chips? Two kinds of Salsa? Most places you're lucky to get a small plastic 1/4 ounce container of salsa. Both were extremely fresh and very good. I loved the one with jalepeno's, serrano's, and yellow hot peppers. Rich went for the milder dried chile salsa with a nice smoky flavor. Next came some fresh pica de gallo and more flour crisps. Muy bueno!

Based on consumer feedback we ordered the Green Chile Cheese Crisp. I had no idea what to expect but I'm hooked. Nothing real fancy about a mexican pizza with monterey jack
and cheddar cheese but the green chile side was amazing. Green chili's simmered with onions and spices and roast beef. You can just taste the love that goes into these dishes. I must also say the service was outstanding. It was not busy when we arrived but by the time we were finished people were waiting. That didn't stop the servers Jean, Linda and  host Dorine from answering all these questions I usually have when doing a review. I had no idea of the history and involvement of the Esparza family. 


Another recommendation from many Facebookers was the #6 Combinaciones. Shredded Beef Taco, Cheese Enchilada, and Roast Beef Burro. How can you go wrong? The flavors, the smells, the tastes are all great. We spoke with some of the other patrons and they all were raving about THEIR places on the Miami-Globe map.

The feedback from Miami-Globe followers was great. Their insights were right on and I can't wait to get back up here to try some of the other equally recommended places for Mexican treats. And, I have to thank my new friend Rich for asking for Mexican food.


Great food and people are a wonderful equalizer. If only more people would put their passion into food the world would be a better place.

GUAYO'S ELREY
716 W Sullivan Street
Miami AZ 85539
928-473-9960


Thursday, September 18, 2014

1528 ... The Bistro at Encanterra

If you're feeling like going to an upscale Mediterranean - style restaurant, offering a casual yet sophisticated feel with emphasis on delicious continental cuisine, superior service and genuinely friendly team members, you'll find it right here in San Tan Valley. 1528 The Bistro at the Encanterra Country Club  where the atmosphere is also a bit hip and blends well with the Mediterranean architectural theme of the entire community.  The layout and design segue to the outdoors, offering Members and guests the opportunity for casually intimate evenings. With multiple dining experiences available including multiple indoor and outdoor private dining spaces, a Chef’s Table in the kitchen and little alcoves with views of the open kitchen, Bistro 1528 is the perfect place to dine and relax.

No it is not exclusive to Encanterra residents. Yes it is available to the community. Chef Brandon Smith and his culinary team have put together quite the dining experience you'd expect at a first-class resort. So, I set-up an appointment to meet with Chef Brandon to discuss The Taste of San Tan Valley coming up in November. It will be a week-long event featuring local restaurants and food shops in our area. Before our meeting I decided to engage in some lunch and with the help of server Tyler picked two courses that he had recommended.

I we started with the Tuscan Crab Cake Trio. Not one but three not-so-petite jumbo lump crab cakes with creole remoulade, chilled corn salad, and pineapple salsa.  As I received my order Chef Brandon sat down to talk but I was too consumed to respond. The crab cakes were outstanding so I excused myself and said you do the talking. I'll do the eating. 

The Taste of San Tan Valley is an event sponsored by the San Tan Valley Chamber of Commerce and will offer the community a chance to visit participating restaurants and food shops and dine at a significant discount. What a great way to try something you've never had. Look for details coming out soon on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tasteofsantanvalley

For my lunch course I chose the "Just a French Dip" which was a French Dip on steriods. Yummy. Shaved prime rib with a horseradish aioli, swiss cheese and yes 12 hour onions served on a toasted french roll and not just au jus but french onion soup for dipping. It also came with the most pleasant and unusual Bistro fries with garlic and parmesan butter and parsley. Couldn't stop eating them.

Kudo's to Chef Joseph for serving such a great meal. Lunch, Dinner, and Sunday Brunch available.

Bistro 1528
Encanterra Country Club
Address: 36460 N Encanterra Dr, San Tan Valley, AZ 85140
Phone:(480) 677-8000

Friday, August 1, 2014

Valentino's Eatery - Anthem at Merrill Ranch - Florence AZ

 La famiglia & amici insieme per un buon pasto Italiano.  Bringing family & friends together over a good Italian meal.

Most people have a love affair with Italian cooking. Why? Perhaps because of the love that goes into making it. From one generation to another, from one place to another the Italians have been perfecting the food of love forever. Thank goodness for that. 

Owner and Chef Rob Barker and wife, Jennifer Valentino Barker, is where the Valentino name comes from. Jennifer’s great grandfather Pasquale Valentino was born on August 13, 1885 in Molise, Italy. From there starts the tree of family loving to come together over a good meal and friends.

Valentino's is our modern day family spot where the highest quality of food and drink is created through the most efficient combination of traditional Italian styles and modern-creative techniques. To see what Valentino's was all about, my wife and home chef Diane made a visit for lunch last week. I've been wanting to try this place since hearing all the positive comments from the community and we sure need some good eateries out here.

We decided to come early thinking we'd be able to spend some time with Rob and talk about their concept and see what he recommends we try but he was busy prepping in the kitchen. We decided to just go at it alone and pick different things from the menu. We always seem to choose more things than we can really eat but how else are you going to sample different foods and tastes. So, we started with a couple of appetizers that for many people could be their whole meal.

Mussels Valentino. The small order was generous enough for the both of us. They were simmered in a choice of different sauces like lemon butter, white wine and garlic. We chose the roasted garlic and tomato cream sauce because it was unique. Mussels were very tender with pieces of parsley, tomato, onions in a rich sauce. Fortunately we asked for some french bread which came on a plank with butter and a tomato oil. More like a tomato jam with pieces of tomato and red pepper flakes for spice. Yummy. Between dipping the bread in the mussel sauce and tomato oil, we were happy campers.

We ordered their Valentinos Special Pizza to see how that was. Really good pizza in AZ is very spotty in my opinion and coming from Chicago I have high expectations. It was topped with fresh mozzarella of course, roasted garlic, sauteed spinach finished with pecorino cheese and oregano. It had a good crust with a pronounced garlic flavor all over.

The salad we ordered was the Chicken and Cranberry. Generous portion for the small one with fresh mixed greens, dried cranberries, marinated grilled chicken with red onion tossed in a house raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Very yummy. We loved the tartness of the dressing offset with the sweetness of the cranberries.

Of course we're full by now but we are troopers. Next.

Eggplant Parmigiana Panini. Look at the size of this sandwich. Egg battered dipped baby eggplant coated and topped with their homemade marinara sauce baked on a demi loaf with mozzarella cheese. I asked for it on garlic bread and it was killer. Crispy but tender eggplant ... thick slices. The marinara sauce is great. Served with a side of pasta salad. Leftovers of that and some pizza went home to live another day.

Even without dessert I, we are anxious to try the dinner menu that has many more specialties. Give Valentino's a try. It's a classy, cozy place that the community needs.

VALENTINO'S EATERY

3385 N Hunt Highway Suite 121. Florence, Arizona 85132
520-723-5910

Hours of Operation:

MONDAY CLOSED 
TUESDAY - THURSDAY:  Lunch 11:30am - 2:30pm,    Dinner 5:00pm - 8:00pm
FRIDAY & SATURDAY:    Lunch 11:30am - 2:30pm,    Dinner 5:00pm - 9:00pm

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mt Athos Restaurant – Food Fit For Gods ... In Florence Arizona?

Not many Arizonans know about the St Anthony’s Monastery in Florence.  But in 1995 six monks arrived in the southern Arizona desert to establish this beautiful retreat bringing with them this sacred, millennial heritage of the Holy Mountain, Athos. Is there a connection to when Mt Athos Restaurant opened about 10 years ago? You'll have to ask the congenial host Pete Koulouris who continues the family tradition brought to Florence from New York City from his father George. Pete is no stranger to the food business having started at the early age of 10. With him comes a legacy of traditions and recipes not found in these parts.

Florence is fortunate to have both the Monastery and Mt Athos Restaurant call this home. We lucked out.

My journey starts out at lunch one day in the heat of this summer. My wife Diane and I are big fans of Greek food coming from Chicago and having “Greektown” conveniently close. Greek foods are not an acquired taste in my opinion as many other ethnic foods are. Greek food to me is the essence of great flavors, smells and textures combined to please the palate. Mediterranean to be sure but the spices and subtlety’s can vary from different regions in Greece much like in Italy, India, or Asia in general.

What’s unique about Pete’s menu is although they have mastered the Greek foods they serve, they offer typical American and Italian dishes that I've heard are top-notch.  But, today is Greek day for us.  Jenn was our friendly server who is a teacher in Florence and comes from the Bronx close to where Pete and his family were from. Her accent is obvious but she said so was mine from the Midwest. We were treated like royalty and I suspect that’s the way everyone else gets treated.

Got to start off with Saganaki (Flaming Cheese) traditionally made with sheep’s milk cheese melted in a small frying pan until it's bubbly and ignited when doused with liquor to form this fireball. The Parthenon in Chicago lays claim to inventing this which is where we traditionally go when back home. Served with pita bread it’s a great start to a meal especially with some Roditys wine.

Can’t have the main course until you have a real Greek salad and some Avgolemono soup. Mt Athos offers different kinds of Greek salads.
We picked the Village salad with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumber, kalamata olives and great feta cheese. Served with a Greek style dressing with oregano. One of the best we've had and wiped the plate clean. They made homemade soups daily but the Avgolemono is a traditional Greek chicken based soup with pieces of chicken, rice and lemon. Very good and a cup just enough.

In order to try different things, Diane ordered the Gyros Platter which comes with a generous portion of Gyros meat, rice, pita bread, Tzatziki sauce and a side of cinnamon glazed carrots. All excellent. Tzatziki can be quite different from place to place. I love to make this at home with yogurt, garlic and cucumbers but Pete makes his with a blend of sour cream and yogurt which we both loved. That’s how I’ll make mine in the future.
With so many great looking things on the menu I asked Pete to make me a platter of mixed meats. He was happy to oblige with this tremendous plate of Baked Lamb shank, Pork and Chicken Souvlaki (kabobs), and Gyro’s. Everything was outstanding. Perfectly seasoned, not overcooked. The Lamb Shank was the bomb. Braised with vegetables in a red wine and tomato sauce infused with allspice.

As if that weren't enough ... Pete said you're not leaving without some Galak. I said “say
what?” Greek Galaktoboureko. A soft semolina milk custard wrapped in Phyllo dough with a honey syrup glaze. We shared one because I wasn't passing up a taste of Greek pastries which is a whole nuther story. Now I know why they used to wear those big white robes ... need room to expand.

All in all it was a very delightful meal and we're looking forward to trying many other dishes on the menu but not all at one time.

Even though many names on the menu are long and hard to pronounce, Pete’s hospitality and passion for serving great food shines through. Not sure what to order? Just ask Pete or one of the helpful servers and you can't go wrong.

Mt Athos Restaurant
 444 N. Pinal PKWY. 
 Florence AZ. 85132
(520)868-0735

OPEN MON-SAT 9AM-9PM