Sunday, May 30, 2010


I wanted to like Katana - I really did. While we all know hibachi restaurants are not 'real' Japanese cuisine - they are normally pretty tasty with the consistently tacky / repetitive jokes while cooking. Onion volcanos anyone? Regardless - skip Katana - try Osaka in downtown Scranton, PA instead...

Functionality - great - right in downtown Wilkes Barre, parking deck across the street... easy in / easy out.

Comfort - although the restaurant was empty when we were there (and had an awkward hibachi show for two)... so hard to comment on the crowd... but seemed like a pretty casual place.

Service - fine, not overwhelming.. seemed like a half-hearted attempt to fit the hibachi concept - instead of a waitress in a kimono... had a very pleasant lady who probably was more comfortable working a nice diner or a Bob Evans. Restaurant management was more or less clueless... lots of people standing around... the welcome sign for the day touted the mojitos... which the waitress then informed me they could not make because they did not have any mint. Really? Last I checked - it's summer, and mint is more or less a weed. So if you cannot be bothered to go pluck some out of the ground - then get your signage updated. Upon further inspection, I realized the waitress was one of the owners... so now I am really bothered by the whole mojito / no mojito thing...

Beyond that - the service was totally rushed - seemed the objective of the restaurant was to keep the place empty. Salads came right away, followed by sushi a few minutes later... then the soups... we're still trying to keep up, and the hibachi chef starts... and of course he becomes frustrated when we don't touch the entrees.

Connected - fine. Wi-Fi options available (although not one for the restaurant itself).. and a decent web site to get you warmed up on the place.

View / Decor - dark and gloomy, and not a in modern kind of way. Some cross between a 1980's comfort food joint and a hibachi place that had not been re-fitted in 20 years. Clean and spacious... but absolutely no memorable. Good location near the square - but little to view to the outside of the restaurant.

Food - the is where the wheels fell off. Sushi - fine - had a vegetable role and a tempura shrimp roll - both reasonably fresh and tasty, although certainly not distinctive. The entrees / hibachi meals pretty much sucked. between us had chicken, scallops, shrimp, 'filet mignon'. Most was overcooked - not sure how this happened given the rush... and the 'filet mignon' tasted much more like a chuck steak at best.

Value - Portion sizes are generous so if that matters to you... not sure $20 for a crappy entree is worth it though.

Would I go back - nope. Osaka in downtown Scranton is fine. Katana is not worth the drive to Wilkes Barre. Even if you are already in the area. Skip it - there are better choices out there.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flow - Jim Thorpe, PA

I'll give you the executive overview up front... make the trip to Jim Thorpe and go to FLOW. See the art gallery, watch the water run under the restaurant, enjoy a cocktail in the backyard. Oh yeah - and have some of the best food in all of northeastern Pennsylvania. Not a cheap date place... but memorable.

Functionality - decent - a bit up Broadway from the core of Jim Thorpe (so driving there is recommended). Street parking readily available. I've been to Flow twice... on my most recent visit, had about 45 minutes to kill while waiting for my spouse, so wanted to be productive. The very nice and helpful staff could not find me a reasonably close power outlet outside so i could plug in my laptop.... so they offered me a spot at the bar w/ electric... and the cables are strewn across the floor and they warned the other staff not to trip on it. Safety hazard? Probably. A simple example of going out of their way for a customer? You bet.

Comfort - this a strange place (and I mean that as a compliment). It really could 'feel' pretentious... but it's not. The staff is pretty young and the customer base is quite mixed. The service supplies are a bit of a mix of grandma's cupboard and flea market plus mid-tier restaurant supply. Somehow it works through.

Service - about perfect. Not rushed, willing to work with your needs / timing. Again - young staff - but they are very efficient and helpful. As good as i have seen anywhere.

Connected - wi-fi not for public use - that should change. Otherwise - good website although the menu changes every couple days and not 100% certain they keep it properly updated.

View / Decor - awesome. The weird mix of dishes / furniture somehow comes together nicely. Try to get one of the tables near the creek that flows under the restaurant. And if you want, take your pre-dinner cocktails and explore the art gallery - no kidding.

Food - does not disappoint. The menu changes often - so don't get hooked on any one item... but everything we've had there was quite good. Items are fresh and quality is good. Minor complaint - had grilled scallops there that were a tad overdone, but no issues. They probably would have replaced them if i wanted. Have not tried the deserts, but the appetizers and mains are good and ensures you will not be disappointed after the drive to Jim Thorpe. Wine selection is OK, albeit limited.

Value - if you stay away from the wine / cocktails ($9 for a mixed drink!) the prices are in line with a restaurant of this quality. Serving sizes are reasonable and clearly the focus is on quality, not quantity. Expect dinner for two in the $60 - $75 range excluding alcohol.

Would I go back - any time I am in Jim Thorpe - Flow is on the agenda. This place is in my top ten favorite restaurants in the world. Will it one day earn a Michelin star? Nope... but I'm not sure that's the most important thing for a successful restaurant either. Flow has carved out a nice little niche in the limited Jim Thorpe restaurant scene - and it is worth the drive.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Century Buffet (Chinese) - 86 points

Let's be clear... normally you should run screaming when you encounter a buffet. When you encounter a Chinese buffet - you should also wildly flail your arms while screaming and making all sorts of contortionist looks with your face. New Century Buffet in Clarks Summit should change that a bit.

Functionality - not bad... I've been to this place several times... it's location is not bad (in the middle of the Clarks Summit business district, off Route 6 in the Abington Shopping Center). Plenty of parking, fast checkin / checkout.

Comfort - acceptable... it's Chinese restaurant in a shopping center (you start to see the trend here...) and you are not going to settle in for 2-hour seating... it does attract a very diverse crowd - contractors, office workers... i even had a priest ask me once if I was a truck driver and I looked really familiar... I did chuckle when I saw a guy sitting next to me come in with a small scale to weigh his food. My friend - I appreciate the focus on your diet... it's something I need to clearly do this some day... but I think you missed something when you thought you saw deep-fried sodium laden products in thick sauces on the Weight Watcher's cards today...

Service - very good... the waitstaff will bring you a beverage of your choice, thus necessitating a tip... and they even bring it quickly :-). Seriously - they do a good job of keeping the buffet pans stocked and keeping the serving areas pretty clean. What more do you need in this situation?

Connected - non-existent... this is the kind of place where I can get zero work done. Web site is not really needed - expect pretty much the same food you'd find at any other Americanized Chinese joint (although they do have a wine chicken which is quite good). No wi-fi connection... so get in, grab-and-go (with all due respect to John Pinnette), and get out.

View / Decor - acceptable... it's a Chinese Buffet in a shopping center. At least it's relatively clean.

Food - very good... if you like Americanized Chinese... and you can deal with it coming from a buffet... and you don't want to move upmarket to a PFChang's or high end at Tse Yang... then you'd be hard-pressed to do better than New Century Buffet. I don't think it's worth more than going 5 or 10 miles out of your way... but if you are in the area, stop by. The food is fresh and refreshed often... the vegetables are mostly fresh (i.e. not all frozen / prepackaged). They have all your favorites... plenty of chicken, pork, and seafood dishes... fried rice, lo mien... a couple different soups... vegetables... deserts (ice cream, fruit)... everything I've had has been quite good. Especially recommend the pepper chicken, the wine chicken, and the General Tso's (this is done in smaller pieces - not the large grisly pieces you normally get).

They do have a full menu, offer take out (including on the buffet).

Value - excellent... it's like $7 per person.

Would I go back? YES - as long as I am around the area... there are lots of great lunch places in NEPA... and if I am in the area and looking for Chinese - this is the place I am going. Not memorable enough of good enough to make the drive, but you should not be disappointed if you stop in.

Visited Wednesday, July 9 12:00PM
New Century Buffet Chinese Restaurant
1000 South State Street
Clarks Summit, PA 18411

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Carmen's @ the Radisson - Sunday "Champagne" Brunch - 84 points

Functionality - horrific... this was the 2nd time I have been at Carmen's (once other for a breakfast and the waffle w/ fruit at breakfast was quite good). In both visits it took what felt like 20 minutes to check in and get seated (and this is when it is not busy in the restaurant). Not to mention the clueless family who were standing a good 8 feet from the hostess desk and did not decide they were in line until we stepped up to the hostess desk. No problems parking... restaurant obviously easy to find.

Comfort - acceptable... nothing memorable... way too hot in the restaurant. Seating is a bit cramped, but not bad. Linens seem old. Dishes and silverware felt cheap and flimsy. Piano player was a nice touch, except for the "Happy Birthday" interruptions - when will this tradition end?

Service - acceptable... There is a manager (the guy with the ponytail) who *always* looks grouchy. Our waiter ("Freddy" or Wilfredo on the receipt) was very good. Prompt, attentive.

Connected - acceptable... free wi-fi from the hotel is a plus. The Carmen's website is useless. I laughed when I saw they called out their 2008 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence - I stayed at this hotel about 2 months ago and ordered a bottle of wine for room service. Crappy glasses, and they had nothing on the wine list (I selected three different bottles and none were available.

View / Decor - good... the lobby of the hotel is very nice. Interesting stained glass over the restaurant. Definitely worth seeing...

Food - good and not so good... the primary dishes were quite tasty... we had french toast, bacon, potatoes, pork loin, crab bisque soup, beef loin, roasted turkey, chicken fillet, fresh salads... all very nice. Not overcooked, refreshed often, serving stations stayed clean. But a lousy bread selection... no cheese plates... average desert selections (chocolate fountain good... strawberries good... pretzel sticks WTF)... no sorbet... and the "Champagne"? Some asti brand I've never heard of... overall the foot was quite good for a buffet, but we would have appreciated some additional selections - and clearly some items were missing.

Value - very good... at $25.95 per person - this cannot be beat...

Would I go back? YES - in a heartbeat. Sunday brunch is all about lots of different food, excess, live music, fun atmosphere... the food is *not* meant to be outstanding, and the value of Carmen's brunch is very good. Go for a visit yourself... despite the nit-picks - this is a good meal (just skip the "champagne").

Visited Sunday, July 6 10:35 AM
Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel
700 Lackawanna Avenue
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503