Friday, July 20, 2007

Local Eats: The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Indigestible

I know at some point that some local area folks may stumble on this blog through word of mouth (thanks mostly to Tiffany, who linked to this blog via her Living in GK blog). Anyway...

Hi folks!

This post is prompted by the unpleasant meal my husband and I just had at Restaurant Mendoza, an Argentine steakhouse that opened recently in Gangelt. I believe it's owned by the same people who operate El Toro Napoli in Gillrath. The fact that both restaurants have identical menus would be a clue, and I do believe the old guy that was working at Mendoza this evening was the same one who waited on us at El Toro Napoli the one time we went there.

The good: the ambience was nice, for the most part (much nicer than at El Toro Napoli). It was nicely furnished and tastefully decorated. It's also HUGE...this restaurant can definitely accommodate crowds. The staff was also very nice, although the service was very slow. It took ages to get our food, which in hindsight, probably wasn't a bad thing.

The bad: the muzak made me want to stab out my eardrums with a fork. It didn't help that I was sitting right under the speaker. And it's too loud for soft conversation. I'm also not sure that Mendoza had English menus. But unless they offer, we don't usually get them...we can read German menus just fine.

The indigestible: Lance described his Spaghetti Al Forno as bland. I had gyro meat on macaroni with spinach and mushrooms, swimming in a cream sauce. The meat was full of gristle and fat and virtually inedible. The cream sauce was way too runny. I was also allowed a salad from the salad bar (they have an evening buffet), and the salad bar only had shredded lettuce, pickled cabbage, green beans, beets, corn and dressing. That's it. They served rolls with 2 kinds of spread (tzatziki and some kind of spicy pimento spread...I stuck with the tzatziki), but since Lance doesn't eat that stuff, he ate the rolls plain and said they weren't very good. Hence, the need for spread.

Of course, it's a steakhouse and we didn't eat steak. But after the meal we had, we won't be rushing out to try their steak anytime soon.

(I think it's safe to say that we don't endorse El Toro Napoli either...while the meal I had there was fine, Lance didn't get what he ordered, and I didn't care for the ambience).


Restaurants we do recommend:

- Carpaccio, Geilenkirchen (Italian): I'm sure you have all eaten here already, since most of you have probably stayed at the City Hotel. I won't bore you with the details.

- Il Genio, various locations (Italian): Everyone knows this place by now. I like the ones in Gillrath and Gangelt the best. There is also Paganini, a new Italian place in Rischden...I've eaten there twice and find it quite similar to Il Genio, although the muzak at this restaurant also makes me go stabbity. It was Andrea Bocelli the first time, which would've been fine at a lower volume. The last time, it was pan flute music.

- Cam Nguyen, Geilenkirchen (Chinese): My favorite lunch spot, and where my friends and I agree to get together 9 times out of 10. It's also very cheap.

- Brasserie Murphy's, Sittard (International): A place some friends and I discovered back in March when the restaurant where we wanted to eat was booked up. I'm glad we ended up here. The food was amazing and served with a very artistic presentation. I ended up having my birthday dinner here last month. The portion sizes are huge and the menu prices are extremely reasonable. Try the tilapia.

- O Portugues, Tuddern (Portuguese): Hands down, the BEST chicken I've ever had in my life. And the fried potatoes that accompanied it were heaven on a plate. This place is popular for its all you can eat shrimp (gambas) night on Tuesdays.

- Paella, Aachen (Spanish): I almost never eat anywhere else but here when I'm in Aachen. Their lunch buffet is TO DIE FOR, and it's less than 5 euros. Apparently, their tapas is very very popular, but they only serve that for supper, and I've only been at Paella during lunch.

- Cafe Madrid, Heinsberg (Spanish): My favorite place of all time. The tapas here is magnificent. I've never been to Spain, but my friends who have say that this tapas far surpasses anything they had there. The guy that owns the place (he is Spanish, by the way) gives fantastic service, and he's also a terrible flirt (it works...he feigned devastating heartbreak because I didn't want to try his coffee. So I did. And I don't even really like coffee. But the "Spanish coffee" was actually good). My first lunch here is one of my most memorable meals of all time. I was astounded by how good it was.

- Steakhouse Mujo, Geilenkirchen and Ubach-Palenberg (International): Okay...HERE is where we go when we're actually in the mood for steak. Although I've never actually had the steak here...the first time we ate here, I had the lamb. The second time, I had salmon. Both were very good.

- Side Grill, Geilenkirchen (Turkish): This is a hole-in-the-wall place (it's right next door to Cam Nguyen), but by gosh, they serve some of the finest doner kebap I've ever had. (Another good place is the doner kebap shack on the main drag in Birgden...I don't think it has a name).

- El Greco, Stahe (Greek): You've all seen this's right on the B56. Their bifteki is wonderful. But you have to really love meat to eat here. I mean, you have to REALLY love meat. The last time I ate there, I got by with stuffed mushrooms from the appetizer menu and a small side salad (but the mushrooms were still stuffed with meat).

- El Comal, Brunssum (Mexican): This is probably about as close as you're going to get to the Mexican you can eat in the States. This is also likely to give you a huge stomach ache the next day. But hey, it was good. I've heard rumors of a mariachi band playing here on occasion. Ole! (By the way, I have eaten at the Mexican place in Aachen before - Sausalito's - some friends swear by this place. The one time I ate there, the food I ordered - a veggie tostada - was just weird. But it was still perfectly decent food).

Notice the lack of German restaurants on this list...we're not huge fans of German food (OH! THE! HORROR!). Besides, they're everywhere, and from my limited experience, the food at each one is about the same.

Feel free to comment with your own suggestions.

And while I'm at it...

Places to buy yummy gourmet stuff:

- Barkenhof, Saeffeln: This beautiful historic home is the residence of Olaf and Elke Barken, who live on the top floor and operate a shop on the main floor. Be prepared to drop some serious money, though. The cheeses, meats, wines, spices, coffees, teas, olive oils, vinegars, chutneys/dips/spreads, etc...are not cheap. But they are absolutely top-quality, and they are incredibly good. Olaf and Elke travel all over the world, personally selecting the products that they sell (to say that I am envious of their lifestyle is a gross understatement). Olaf will talk your ear off about all the products and he will let you taste them. My personal favorites: lemon-infused olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, chocolate covered espresso beans, French honey. They also sell bath products and furniture. Olaf has said that he wants to sell Barkenhof and move to Majorca to run a bed and breakfast. He could very well be serious about this. Get there while you can.

- Oil & Vinegar, Aachen & Heerlen: You can buy, of course, oils and vinegars. You can also buy spices, dip mixes, and crunchy things to dip in said mixes. You can also get cute serving dishes and bowls.

- Xenos, Aachen & Sittard: Here's a secret - go to Oil & Vinegar and taste the bruschetta dip mix and the fruschetta dip mix. Then go to Xenos and buy jars of the mix for a fraction of the price! They taste almost exactly the same, and they are MUCH cheaper. They have all kinds of other foodie things too...I buy pesto and grissini (tiny crunchy breadsticks) there a lot. Xenos sells tons of other things's like one of those dollar stores, so I'm sure you'll find other ways to spend your money while you're there.

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