Local Restaurant Reviews

Clubhouse Restaurant – on our To Eat At list – coming soon

Anniversary Dinner (a month late)

Our wedding anniversary is in mid August, about a week after my birthday.  It always seems to be a busy time of year with the end of Summer and the beginning of football season.  This year was our 2nd anniversary and for the second year in a row, we let it slip by us without much to-do.  So this week we decided to make it up to each other with a great date night out.

My husband made reservations at Maestros, one of our favorite places to go for a really nice dinner out.  We had a couple of drinks downtown before heading over for our 8 pm reservation.  Although there was no hostess, we were seated within a few minutes.  I ordered a glass of Layer Cake Malbec, a great wine for the money.  Everything on the menu looked great and they were offering a short menu of special combos that were more affordable than their main menu.

We ordered our standard appetizer because it is so delicious, Mussels with white wine and tasso ham, yummy.  The portion was generous as always, served with bread to sop up the rich wine broth in the bottom of the bowl.  I especially liked the small chunks of tomato and onion infused with all the mussel and broth taste.

Before reading the menu we were both set on steaks, but after reading through the options we each opted for something a little off the beaten path.  I ordered the pan seared snapper with fingerling potatoes and haricot vert covered in a crabmeat cream sauce.  My husband ordered the duck breast over orzo with sauted spinach.  The service at the restaurant was great, due in part I am sure to the fact that it was Tuesday night and not very busy.

Our entrees arrived and both were beyond our expectations.  My husband’s duck had a sweet sauce on it that complimented the creamy orzo and the savory meat.  The medium rare dark breast meat was cooked just right and the crispy skin provided a great texture contrast.  I stole one bite, then another, delicious!

My snapper also came with a perfectly crispy skin on one side and a soft and flaky flesh on the other.  The potatoes were tender with a coating of olive oil and slightly crisp, roasted skin.  The bright green haricot vert would have appalled my grandmother, being so undercooked, but to me they were crisp and well seasoned.  To top it all off, the sauce on top was cream based, with crab meat, lemon juice, garlic and fresh parsley.  It was rich and smooth, but tangy and flavorful, a balanced and tasty meal.

Finally, we decided that we had not indulged quite enough, that we should order dessert to put us fully into a food induced coma.  Several options looked good, but we agreed on the apple bread pudding with creme anglaise sauce.  Piping hot from the oven, covered in goey sauce with warm pieces of apple doused in cinnamon and sugar – wonderfulness!

A++ for Maestros again this time!  Service was even better than last time, they are consistently a go-to place for a special occasion out.

The Real Chow Baby (Atlanta)

As our big weekend was coming to a close, my best friend and I headed up to Atlanta to meet up with another friend from college and bum around town before her flight.  We decided to eat lunch at The Real Chow Baby on Ponce de Leon.  I had never been to a place like that before and was completely clueless, so we followed behind the pro as we picked out noodles or rice, all the fresh veggies you could imagine (broccoli, red peppers, green beans, asparagus, peas, scallions, onions etc. for me) and then added a sauce, or two (ginger thai basil is the very best one) and picked our meat (chicken, beef, talapia) and added any other goodies (tortillas, shrimp) and then put our bowls in line, labeled properly with name and table number, to be stir fried on the 5′ diameter grill.  Wow! The first time through the line, yes that is correct you can go through the line multiple times,  was overwhelming and I missed out on some really good stuff like the fresh garlic, so go slow and don’t miss anything.

The second round was easier, rice noodles yes, veggies yes, don’t forget the fresh garlic this time! Try a new sauce, add spices, yum! Chicken instead of beef.  Wow, now the hard part, eating a second bowl full!  Ok, it wasn’t that hard to finish every last bite.

The great thing about Chow Baby: fresh ingredients, you choose exactly what you want, cooked fresh!

Down side: Choices! If you don’t like it, its your fault. Slightly pricey ($8.99 for lunch without a drink, still a pretty good deal).

Zoe’s Kitchen

It’s newest location is here in downtown Auburn on Magnolia.  Although many Auburn residents are familiar with Zoe’s because of their Montgomery and Birmingham locations, I had never been there before.  My best friend and I convinced my husband that it was not ‘chick food’ and that he was sure to find something he liked on the menu.  He reluctantly came along because it was two against one and she was visiting from out of town.  We were pleased to find that there was parking in the back, reserved for Zoe’s customers.  The feel when you walk in the door is very bright, fresh and a perfect place for student, families and everyone in between.

The menu is large and bright, posted above the counter where you order.  It is clear and concise with just the right amount of choices/decisions without being overwhelming.  The focus of the menu is on Greek/Mediterranean cuisine such as kebabs, hummus, Greek salad and pitas.  They also have sandwich or roll-up options that give variety and familiar items for people less likely to branch out from the norm.

My husband and I both ordered the Greek Chicken Pita, I had potato salad for my side and he had rice.  The pita was warm and chewy, with plenty of filling inside.  There were two large pieces of marinated and grilled chicken inside the pita, along with a delicious feta cheese, lettuce and tomato.  On all of the tables sat a large bottle of their homemade Greek Dressing.  We all guessed that this was also the marinade for the chicken.  I enjoyed my mayo-free potato salad very much and am hoping to replicate it at home seeing as I am not a huge mayo eater.  The rice was also very good according to my husband, and we all enjoyed tasting some of the marinated slaw as well.  Overall Zoe’s got a big thumbs up from everyone, including my husband who insisted that we go back as soon as possible.  The only negative comment that I have heard about it at all is that it is expensive for lunch, about $9 with a drink.  For us a healthy option in town that has consistently good food and service is worth $9, even at lunch time.

Zazu

Over the past 3 years or so since Zazu has been open in downtown Auburn I and several combinations of friends/family have been for lunch and dinner.  My opinion until recently was a very good one.  Lunch is affordable ($10) and delicious with great service.  Dinner is expensive, but worth it for a special occasion.  They have several items on their lunch and dinner menu that are beyond the norm and not available anywhere else: cornbread waffles or s’mores waffle dessert.  The bread pudding dessert needs its own page entirely, but if you haven’t had it there, go get it right now!

I prefaced the first sentence by saying ‘until recently’ because Mom and I went there at lunch for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and it was almost as if we were in another restaurant all together.  The waitress was flaky and appeared to be ‘under the influence’ of apathy if not a controlled substance.  She took our drink order, unsweet tea for me and an Arnold Palmer for Mom.  She seemed to know what the Arnold Palmer was (see here if you don’t).  Upon her return, Mom sipped her drink and proclaimed “That has alcohol in it!” I tried it and agreed that it was not a proper Arnold Palmer.  She explained that it was their Arnold Palmer Martini!  Oh well, everyone knows that drinking liquor at lunch on a weekday is totally fine right?  She continued to apologize every 5 minutes for the rest of our hour and a half lunch.

Our food came, a burger for Mom and Fish Tacos for me.  The tacos were not as good as they usually are and the Arnold Palmer Martini continued to haunt us at the edge of the table, unwanted but still staring us down as if it was insulted by our preference for non-alcholic drinks at noon.

Finally the most wonderful creation known to mankind arrived, piping hot with creme anglaise on the side.  Crispy on the edges where the ramekin was hot when they poured the bread pudding into it and warm and creamy in the middle.  The super sweet sauce dripping down and making everything just perfect.  Like I said, go get some now!  Overall the experience left something to be desired and did I mention that for the better part of an hour, right at noon, we were the only people in the place?  So my final conclusion is that they are a good restaurant that had a bad lunch service.  Good thing that bread pudding saved them at the end!

Maestro 2300

***Update 5/18/2012*** If you make a reservation at Maestro, request the Kissing Booth.  It is a private table that will give you more privacy whether it is a romantic dinner or a family affair.

My husband and I are always looking for new, unique places to eat a nice dinner out. Since we cook at home most of the time we enjoy going out as a special treat every once in a while.  We heard about Maestros from a newspaper article that gave it a good review, especially for their wine selection.  I am a wine lover, but far from a connoisseur, so we were really interested in the food itself.  Shortly after this my parents went there for dinner and gave it a good review as well.  My dad worked as a waiter for many years and if he gives the service a thumbs up, it is a high compliment.

Our schedules rarely align so that we both have a night off together, but somehow we found a Friday night for date night.  We made reservations and arrived at 6:30 pm.  We thought that we would be a little early and that it would not be crowded, but there were plenty of full tables.  We were seated in the section of the dining room that is on a raised area and had a good view of the restaurant as well as a peek into their large dining hall. The decor was modern with an old world feel from lots of dark wood and wine bottle displays long the walls.

The server came over promptly and was very professional.  He gave us the specials and soups of the day.  We ordered the mussels appetizer, although they all looked very good.  I also wanted to try the  caprese salad and so we decided to share both of them.  When the mussels arrived we were shocked by the huge steaming heap of mussels set in front of us.  The aroma of the broth was incredible and the grilled bread on top was a perfect compliment.  Every mussel in the bowl was open (an experience we had not had at another restaurant) and the only thing we would have wanted differently was more bread to sop up the remaining broth, which was so good we would have tipped the bowl up and finished it off if we could have gotten away with it.

The caprese salad arrived next with heirloom tomatoes, homemade mozzarella and a salad of greens (dandelion or arugula?).  The pesto and balsamic dressing was sweet and acidic and complimented the creamy fresh mozzarella perfectly.  The side salad was very bitter, but well dressed although there was an exorbitant amount of it on the plate.

Lastly the entrees arrived: prosciutto wrapped sea bass and scallops for me, and the ribeye for my husband.  Each entree itself was delicious, rivaled only by the sides.  My vegetable ragout was a mix of squash and zucchini in a light tomato sauce.  Accompanying the ribeye was asparagus and spicy pan fried potatoes.  It was all delicious, but so filling that we had no room for dessert.

I give it a 4 out of 5 for Auburn, Alabama’s newest fine dining restaurant.

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