August 29, 2008

Monsoon on the Rim

By Angele Sionna

6 East Aspen Ave, Flagstaff, AZ (downtown)
(no menu online)

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Monsoon's Mandarin Orange Chicken"]Monsoons Mandarin Orange Chicken[/caption]

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>= mixed bag, can be good but can be bad, can’t count on it

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx= comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$ = $10

Value (what you get for your money)
** = okay - overpriced for quality/taste

Asian fusion is how Monsoon on the Rim downtown Flagstaff describes itself. Japanese, Thai, and Chinese are all represented on the menu. It had been a while since I’d been to Monsoon, but I decided to go there earlier this week because I got a great coupon in the mail for a free dinner with purchase of another dinner and two beverages. That’s like a personal invitation to me. Plus, the coupon stated across the top: “Under new ownership! Completely Redecorated!” So we went. I couldn’t really remember why we stopped going there. We used to go weekly when we first moved to town.

When we walked in the door, I didn’t notice any of the “completely redecorated” portions of the restaurant. It looked pretty much the same, minus a new paint job and some light fixtures. Monsoon always had a nice feel to it with large windows around two sides of the restaurant looking out onto one of downtown’s busiest streets.

We opted to sit out on the patio because it was a nice night. The patio is very casual. People seem to linger here longer than inside the restaurant, busy people watching as they eat their meals.

When the waitress brought the menu, it looked pretty much as I remembered it, except for one little detail I’m sure the owners were hoping customers would forget – the prices. There are two menus now with different prices. The dinner menu tacks an extra $2 to each entrée. But you don’t get any extra food or better service or even different plates. It’s all the same, it just costs more – maybe to pay for the new paint job inside? I would have preferred the old look with the cheaper prices.

When I took the first bite into my dinner, I remembered why we used to come here. The Mandarin Chicken ($9.99) is great. It’s breaded and fried into crispy strips and coated with a sweet orange sauce with water chestnuts, carrots and celery mixed in and is served with white rice.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320" caption="Monsoon's Chow Mein"]Monsoons Chow Mein[/caption]

A few minutes later when it was all gone, I remembered why we stopped going to Monsoon: the portions are small (though cleverly and deceptively spread out thinly across oval plates) and the prices are high for what you’re getting. (That, and our favorite waitress Marla stopped working here and relocated over to Beaver Street Brewery, where we see her often.)
They even cut back on the amount of white rice that is served with the meal. You used to get a big bowl of white rice for the table to share, but this time we got a tiny bowl. Not really enough to compliment the dish, even though it is on the skimpy serving side as well.
We also ordered the Chicken Chow Mein ($9.99). It has a gingery kick, but is short on vegetables. I’m not sure why it’s called chow mein when it is served with lo mein noodles, but they taste good. (Read the difference between lo mein & chow mein HERE) Though again, a small portion is served and no rice comes with it.
If you want friend rice, that’ll be an extra $9.99, as it is served as an entrée. The old menu, which I happen to have a copy of and am looking at as I type this, had fried rice for just $5. You can order any entrée for the price listed on the menu with beef, chicken or tofu. If you want to upgrade that to shrimp, calamari, or scallops, Monsoon adds on an extra $3.
The food tasted exactly as I remembered it, which is a good thing, as flavor is not something lacking at Monsoon. Other items we’ve ordered and enjoyed in the past include the Spicy Calamari ($9.99) (which used to be on the appetizer menu for $6), Mongolian Beef ($9.99), and the Szechuan Broccoli Beef ($9.99). There are also vegetarian options, which I’ve tried in the past, including Steamed Broccoli ($7.99) which is stir-fried with water chestnuts and carrots and Szechuan Green Beans ($7.99), stir fried with onions and peppers for a little spiciness.

The appetizer menu includes: Edamame ($4), Spring Rolls (2/$4), Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($8) (again, these used to be much cheaper at $4.50), and more. Deserts look interesting, though I’ve never tried them, with such choices as Chocolate Seduction with raspberry sauce ($4), Banana Spring Rolls ($7) and Plum Ice Cream ($4).

Despite good tasting food, when you consider the jacked up prices for food, sodas that cost $2 (and we had to ask every time for a refill), and service that was lacking (our waitress did not seem like she wanted to be there), Monsoon isn’t the kind of spot I’m going to be heading back to any time soon. If I’m going to over pay for food, I at least expect good service. *TIP: If you go, look for the “Money in the Mail” coupons beforehand. You can save quite a bit. I wouldn’t recommend going for dinner with out one.

For more photos of Monsoon on the Rim, click HERE.

August 21, 2008


By Angele Sionna

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Sakura's known for their fire-side atmosphere"]Sakuras known for their fire-side atmosphere[/caption]

1175 West Route 66, Flagstaff, AZ
Inside the Radisson Woodlands Hotel
Menu at:

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>= a favorite, can count on it being good every time

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxxx= you’ll love it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
lunch: $$$ = $15
dinner: $$$$=$20

Value (what you get for your money)
lunch: ***** = superb -lots of quality/taste for what you pay
dinner: ** = okay - overpriced (compared to lunch)

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Plates are set on fire as part of the "Ring of Fire""]Plates are set on fire as part of the Ring of Fire[/caption]

Pyro-chefs that set the tables on fire daily. These “rings of fire,” as Sakura calls them, are the first thing you’ll notice that sets this Japanese restaurant apart from any other restaurant in Flagstaff, or anyone I’ve ever eaten at, actually, anywhere in the world. Once you get over the serious heat in your face (that my oldest daughter loves to watch, by the way), and the food is served up, you’ll know why Sakura has been recognized by Food & Wine magazine as one of the “Best Restaurants of the Southwest” and has been voted Best Japanese restaurant for ten years by readers of the Arizona Daily Sun. There have been weeks that I’ve eaten at Sakura twice because I just couldn’t help myself. I love their Ginger sauce, and at lunch you just can’t beat their prices for what you get. It could be the best overall value for lunch in town. Dinner is a different story, though. You basically get the same size meal but with a salad for about $6 to $10 more. Not a bargain.

Now before I go any further, I should say that I am only talking about Sakura’s teppanyaki food cooked and served at the big tables in this review. I’ve never eaten at the sushi bar, so I can’t speak to it. I brought a friend to eat here from out of town and she ordered sushi and gave it two thumbs up, but that’s the extent of my sushi knowledge at Sakura.

Sakura is a place where I tend to bring guests (along with Beaver Street for another meal on their visit). My mom, who used to live in Japan, always asks to go here when she comes to town. Sakura is basically like the famous chain restaurant Benihana (which you can find in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver and other cities across the U.S.). A trained chef cooks everything in front of you. My favorite day to go to Sakura is when the head chef is on duty (generally, I can find him there on Wednesdays). He has extra special skills and my husband and I always give each other “the nod of inner excitement” when we see him pushing the food cart over to our table. It shows in the delicious way he seasons the food that he is in charge here for a reason. (Plus, he's really nice.)

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Food is served hot & fresh, grilled right in front of you"]Food is served hot & fresh, grilled right in front of you[/caption]

When you get to Sakura, you’re seated around a long rectangular table with everyone facing the grill. After the waiter takes your order, you wait for soup that comes with every entree (and other appetizers) to be brought out. Then your chef arrives at your table pushing the food cart with all of the ingredients that will become your lunch or dinner. Depending on the chef, the show changes. Some go all out with theatrics, some really get into making the “ring of fire,” others are serious business about making the food. But that’s one of the things I like about Sakura. No matter which chef you get, you’re going to have a unique experience and you’re going to have a good meal.

There is one downside to the Sakura experience, it can take forever from the time you arrive to the time you leave. We've spent three hours here at lunch before when we sat at a crowded table where everyone ordered appetizers. Normally, it takes closer to one hour and some change. Faster, if there's more than two chefs on duty, but that seems rare at lunchtime.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Chicken & Shrimp entree with double ginger sauce"]Chicken & Shrimp entree with double ginger sauce[/caption]

As far as the food goes, your best bet is to go hungry... then order the Sakura Grill ($13.95, lunch; $23.95, dinner), which is kind of a big sampler plate with grilled shrimp, chicken and steak. All the teppanyaki meals come with steamed rice and hibachi vegetables. A lot of food, but oh so good. It is all cooked to your specifications, seasoned with soy sauce, butter, salt, wine, vodka, and/or teriyaki sauce (depending on what you order, of course) and flamed grilled to release all of the scrumptious flavors waiting inside. I’ve never had anything here that was too dry. It’s always juicy. My personal favorite is the “Chicken & Shrimp” ($11.95, lunch; $20.95, dinner). Other entrees include: Salmon ($11.95, lunch; $18.95, dinner), Mahi Mahi ($11.95, lunch; $23.95, dinner), Calamari ($10.95, lunch; $17.95, dinner), Hibachi Chicken ($9.95, $16.95), Spicy Steak ($10.95, lunch), Vegetable Yakisoba ($8.95, lunch; $14.95, dinner), and more.
I have to recommend skipping the teriyaki sauce, something folks new to Japanese tend to order. I make this suggestion only so you can enjoy and savor the flavors of the food. It is so good you don’t need a heavy sauce like that. Though if you do opt for it, Sakura does have a good teriyaki sauce.

The side of ginger sauce that the chef serves up when he finishes cooking your meal is my favorite. It adds just the right zing to your meats. It is a touch sweet, a little zesty, and a whole lotta tangy. I like it so much I order two ginger sauces instead of the spicy mustard sauce. I use it on everything. If it’s your first visit, try both to see what you like.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="The head chef cooking up fried rice"]The head chef cooking up fried rice[/caption]

I like to order a side of fried rice ($2.50) as the main course for my two year old, then “help” her eat it and share some of my plate with her. It is cooked with eggs, green onions and spices. Sakura does have kids versions of the meals for $7.95-$9.95 for older kids. The portions are always generous, so no one goes home hungry after eating here, even if you share with your tots. We’re usually so full from eating lunch at Sakura that we skip dinner or just have a small salad.
If you can make it to a desert without exploding, the green tea ice cream is yummy. It has a weird texture for ice cream. It’s not creamy, so much as it is chalky. But I like it and so does my daughter. If it’s your birthday, they serve some to you with a candle and a song.

I suggest skipping the soda and ordering hot green tea. It takes fantastic and it’s free. Nice bonus, though it doesn’t say so on the menu. Sakura also serves a selection of Japanese beer and sake, if you’re so inclined. I like the Kirin Lager ($4).

**TIP: Sakura offers a great discount for NAU employees – 20% off! It just makes the Sakura experience even better. But be sure to ask for the discount and present your card. The waiter won’t offer it. We found out about this about a year into eating there when another group asked for their NAU discount. My husband immediately got out his NAU ID card and asked for the discount too. And we’ve been reaping the benefits ever since!

For more photos of Sakura, click HERE.

Netflix, Inc.

August 15, 2008

Scott’s Chicago Pizza

By Angele Sionna
Route 66 & Railroad Springs – Inside the Whistle Stop Fuel Station

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>= good, but not great

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
x= if the food’s good enough, still worth going, otherwise forget it

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$= $10

Value (what you get for your money)
** = okay - overpriced for quality/taste

Can good food be found inside a gas station? Most definitely. I’ve eaten at several good eateries in my day located in the most unlikely of places. But I was still a little leery of ordering Chicago-style pizza from Scott’s Chicago Pizza. First, it is in a gas station. And of all the foods I’ve had and enjoyed at gas station restaurants, pizza had never been one of them. Second, this is Chicago-style pizza we’re talking about. Having lived in Chi-town I know my way around some of the best pizza joints in the world. So my expectations are always low to find a decent Windy City pie outside the Windy City. Still, I’d gotten a recommendation to try it, so I loaded the family in the car at set forth for the far west side of town hoping for the best.

When we arrived at the Whistle Stop Fuel Station I had my husband run in to make sure we were in the right place. Their sign said, “deep dish slice $3” but I didn’t see a sign for Scott’s anywhere. But sure enough, there it was, tucked in the corner to the right of all the typical convenience store goods.

There are only two tables inside the store, one on each end. A little weird to eat next to the chips and candy isle, so we opted for the outside seating at one of the three picnic tables around the corner to the left of the station. There aren’t any high chairs, so it was a good thing we had the stroller in the car for our youngest.
To order, you go up to the counter, which has Chicago Cubs and White Sox memorabilia all around. I was leery, as I said, so I quizzed the poor girl on duty about the details of their Chicago-style deep dish. Most places say Chicago-style but they don’t have a clue as to what that means. Not the case at Scott’s. They know exactly what it means, but they don’t mean the famous Chicago-style stuffed pizza that is truly a pie with a top layer of crust and extra sauce on top of that. They make Gino’s East-style pizza, complete with the chunky Italian-style tomato salsa on the top and the cornbread type crust.

We ordered the small Cheese Deep Dish ($7.50). That’s what we used to order at all the pizzerias when we lived in Chicago and we wanted to compare apples to apples. The girl at the counter warned me it would be small for two people, but I went ahead and ordered it anyway because Chicago style pizzas normally are more filling. Bad idea. Though the menu says seven inches, it was really more like five and should be called a child or personal pan-sized pizza. It only has two small slices. The 10” ($11.50) would be a better fit for two adults.
It takes about 20 minutes to cook a small cheese deep dish, and the time just increases the bigger the size and the more toppings you get. Knowing this, you should definitely call ahead if you want to dine in unless it’s a really nice day and you enjoy watching people fill up their tanks.
The pizza itself was pretty good. I personally like it better than the Gino’s East pizza in Chicago. But, and this is a big but, I don’t like Gino’s East. I’m more of a Chicago’s Pizza or Pizzeria Uno stuffed Chicago-style kind of a gal. Still, Scott’s salsa-style chunky topping was good, a little sweet and a little salty. The cheese was average but plentiful. The crust, as I said, has cornbread in it, so it has a really grainy texture and is dry. My husband, who was born and raised in Chicago and likes Gino’s East didn’t care for Scott’s deep dish pizza at all, calling it a “poor man’s version of Gino’s East.” But I maintain that if you’re not familiar with real Chicago pizza, you’ll like Scott’s for a change of pace in your pizza dining. It’s definitely not like any other pizzas in town.

Other items on Scott’s menu include: thin crust pizza, salads, wings, and chili. All of the pizza names have fun Chicago-inspired names like “Magnificent Mile” and “Monster of the Midway.” Nice touch. I’d say if you were on a road trip passing through Flagstaff, you should bring along their number (928-226-0065), order when you’re about half an hour outside of town, filler up at the pump, then pick up your pizza pie. There’s a roomy lot with enough space for an RV to pull up and grass nearby to walk the doggies. Note: if you don’t want to eat there, Scott’s does deliver… to a limited area, with a minimum order of $15, plus a $3 delivery fee.

**TIP: Before heading to Scott’s check their website or your phone book for some good coupons. They have coupons for $2 off any pizza or buy one large deep dish, get one large one topping thin crust for half. They’re good through May 2009.**

For more photos of Scott's Chicago Pizza, click HERE.


August 10, 2008

La Bellavia

By Angele Sionna

18 S. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ
(no menu online)

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>= a favorite, can count on it being good every time

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx= comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$= under $10

Value (what you get for your money)
**** = worth it - you won’t be disappointed with what you get for your money
I don’t think a morning has passed that I drove by La Bellavia on the weekend and it wasn’t packed. Finally after stopping one night to browse the menu, we decided to go the next morning. The atmosphere is inviting with flowers and two much sought after outdoor tables full of satisfied looking customers as you walkthrough the door. There’s an old fashioned feel inside with simple décor and colorful walls. The sweet aroma of pancakes, syrup and eggs filled the air, reassuring me that we made the right choice in coming here this morning.

All around the restaurant hang paintings done by a local artist, which change monthly. They’re all for sale. La Bell, as some locals call it, takes part in the monthly art walk that Flagstaff hosts.

Photobucket La Bell is known for their Swedish Oat Cakes ($4.25 for one). These huge buttermilk and oat cakes are served with a hot cinnamon apple topping. They taste like a treat, but they’re pretty good for you. (A perfect combination.) They’re so big that if you eat a whole stack of three oat cakes, they’ll take your photo and hang it on the wall… plus if it’s a weekday they’ll give you a free coffee mug too. You can also order a side-sized oat cake, which is the size of a normal pancake other places, for $2. It’s the perfect size for kids or to pair up with the Spuds Medley ($5.95), which is what we did.

The Spuds Medley ($5.95) consists of country potatoes served with two cheeses, sour crème, salsa, bell peppers and onions. While these were good, next time I’m going to opt for just the regular size oat cake instead, as it’s far superior.

Photobucket This breakfast joint also does the classics well. The omelet ($7.75) is filled with your choice of cheese plus two additional fillings (we choose cheddar cheese, sausage and ham.). It comes topped with hollandaise sauce and is served with an English muffin and a side-sized buttermilk pancake or country potatoes. (These are the side options for almost all the breakfast entrees here). The omelet was cooked perfectly… not overly dry, full of flavor and juicy without being too salty. The sausage chunks were huge instead of being crumbled, which was a little weird but tasted yummy. We opted for the buttermilk pancake as one of our sides and it was excellent: sweet and fluffy. The English muffin was also fresh and tasty.

Other popular choices… The Trout and Eggs combo ($8.95). The Idaho trout is pan-fried and comes with the standard side choices. La Bellavia also serves their own handmade pastries.

The kids menu has several great options. Among them: a Koala Bear Pancake ($3.25), three Silver Dollar Pancakes ($2.75) and French Toast Fingers ($3.75).

The best deal on the menu… the weekday early bird special. From 6:30-8am Monday through Friday you get two eggs, an English muffin, buttermilk pancake or country potatoes, all for just $3.95.

Breakfast is the big draw at La Bell and they know it. It’s served all day every day. But they also do offer a lunch menu with sandwiches, wraps and quiches.

For more photos from LaBellavia click HERE.


August 3, 2008

Javelina Cantina - $ Saving UPDATE

by Angele Sionna

I just went to Javelina Cantina last night for dinner and it was great again! I still hold that it's the best Mexican in Arizona. For my full Javelina Cantina Review with details on their fantastic food - click HERE.

I wanted to be sure to write a quick update to share some new info the waitress shared with me that could save you money!

**Here are a few new money saving TIPS:

  • If you tell any waiter/waitress that you are a local (ie, from Flagstaff, Sedona, etc.) they will automatically take 10% off your bill, no coupon needed!

  • She also told me that right now there is a coupon for 20% off your bill in one of the free local magazines that are available at most tourist info spots.

  • Another money saving tidbit I found out about - their frequent diner card. Every time you purchase a meal of $10 or more, you get one stamp on your card (max of two stamps per card per visit, but they will stamp multiple cards). Once you get to 12 stamps, you get up to $12 off your bill.

Warning though - there is some MAJOR construction going on right now on Sedona's main streets. It took us over an hour to get the last mile or so into the city coming down 89A from Flagstaff. When we were discussing this with our helpful waitress she told us that it has taken as long as two hours for drivers to get from I-17 into Sedona via Highway 179. So your best bet into the city seems to be via 89A northbound coming form Cottonwood.

Bright Angel Restaurant

By Angele Sionna

Grand Canyon Village, AZ
In the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim
Menu online at:

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>>>= a favorite, can count on it being good every time

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx= comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$ = $10

Value (what you get for your money)
**** = worth it - you won’t be disappointed with what you get for your money

Most people go to the Grand Canyon to enjoy the view or hike the trails. But here’s another reason to make the trek: the Bright Angel Restaurant. It is part of the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. When walking along the rim trail enjoying the popular overlooks, you’ll find the entrance to this delicious restaurant tucked behind the ice cream shop and souvenir store at the Bright Angel Lodge. The décor is distinctively southwestern and rustic with wooden beam ceilings and large windows along the side of the restaurant that borders the canyon. The food reflects these qualities.
This was my first visit to the Bright Angel, but I have had lunch and dinner at other eateries along the rim, including the neighboring Arizona Room and the upscale restaurant at the El Tovar hotel about a quarter mile up the rim trail. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as we sat down. My family had taken the two hour-plus train ride from Williams to the Grand Canyon and we were hungry. The last time I was in this area, we ate at the Arizona Room, which I enjoyed, but no one else in my party remembered being very good. (I had the Caesar salad and corn chowder there, which I would recommend.)

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="258" caption="Bright Angel's Sana Fe Lettuce Wraps"]Bright Angels Sana Fe Lettuce Wraps[/caption]

The menu had several items I debated between when ordering. Luckily everyone I was with ordered something different, so I got to sample several dishes. The best item on the menu are the Santa Fe Lettuce Wraps ($8.75), enough for an appetizer to share or an entree for one. These are not your ordinary lettuce wraps. The chicken breast is sweetly marinated and shredded then mixed with pistachios and chipotle seasonings. It is served with an interesting twist on a standard dipping sauce –a lemon lime sour crème. Together it tasted woodsy and smoky with a backbite of a mellow but spicy flame on your tongue. It was fantastic. I still can’t believe how well these flavors blended and left us wanting more. They are not to be missed.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="221" caption="Bright Angel's Taco Salad"]Bright Angels Taco Salad[/caption]

I also tried the South of the Border Salad ($9.85). It’s a basic taco salad with grilled chicken breast strips. It’s served with guacamole, sour crème and salsa. I added some of the lemon lime sour crème from the lettuce wraps and it was good. The chicken strips were severely overcooked. Otherwise, it was tasty, though not original.
The Hermit Veggie Burger ($9.25) was next up. It too has a southwestern flavor with a black bean base. It was served on an oat bun with pepperjack cheese and I’m glad to report is not dry like some veggie burgers. It comes with cole slaw, onion rings or fries. I would recommend this even if you’re not a vegetarian for its southwestern flavor without being spicy.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="269" caption="Bright Angel's Spinach Wrap"]Bright Angels Spinach Wrap[/caption]

We also tried the Indian Garden’s Spinach Wrap ($9). It has layers of spinach, avocado, roasted peppers, tomato, black olives, and black beans all wrapped together in a spinach tortilla spread with a roasted pepper crème cheese. I really liked this one and would most definitely order it on another visit. It comes with either a salad of the day, root veggie chips, fries, or onion rings.
My husband ordered the Cheeseburger ($8.80), which is the Bright Angel Burger ($8.15) with your choice of cheese. He selected Swiss. It was average at best and nothing to really write home about. It comes with fries, onion rings, or cole slaw, of which he selected onion rings. They were a little greasy but sweet and crispy. The Canyon Grill ($9.35) is basically a club sandwich. It was satisfying yet nothing special.
Worthy of trying is the fair-trade organic coffee by Green Mountain. You can order it hot or iced for $1.85 with refills. It is very smooth and refreshing. Good as a beverage with your meal or as desert. It was so good, I’m going to be looking for it tonight online to order some for my house. We didn’t see any in the gift shop outside.
Next time I’m at the Grand Canyon I’ll definitely stop at the Bright Angel Restaurant again, even if it’s just for a quick snack of the Santa Fe Lettuce Wraps and an Iced Coffee. It’s a great place to relax in the air-conditioning as you enjoy the views of the Canyon any time of day. They have a separate breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. From our experience, I’d recommend opting for the more specialty items on the menu. They are interesting and unique, much like the views out the window.

For more photos of Bright Angel Restaurant click HERE.

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