Red Raven Restaurant – Williams, Arizona Restaurant Review

Most of our photo outings are day trips, but when we go too far away, we spend the night with the Patels. That means eating on the road. Usually, dinner out, and If the motel doesn’t provide waffles, then breakfast too. That was the case on our recent Williams trip.

My default reference is Trip Advisor to find a decent place to eat. I’ve even contributed a couple of reviews. When I looked up a place for dinner in Williams, their top-rated restaurant was the Red Raven. With a bit of effort and a couple of mouse clicks, I pulled up their dinner menu on my screen. Right off the top, I found two dishes that I enjoy listed under house specialties; Filet Oscar and Grilled Duck Breast (I’d order duck more often, but when I do, Anne—in her best Daffy Duck voice—says, “Thatssh Dishspickable.”). With items like that on the menu, we had dinner sorted before we jumped into Archie.

Ambiance

The first unusual thing was at Red Raven’s front door. It was locked with a note above a doorbell that read, “Please Ring for Service.” After you ring—sometimes twice—a hostess greets you outside. I don’t know if this is their standard modus operandi or a Covid 19 thing, but it works well. After your greeter politely asks a couple of questions—party number, reservations—they find a table and usher you inside. Right away, you see that although the ceiling is above the two-story arched windows, it’s a small room with a limited number of tables. Managing the door this way reduces unnecessary tourist traffic—like people wanting to use the bathroom.

The dining room takes up the entire width of the brick building, and the tables are spaced apart in three rows. The wall bottoms are wainscoted with a pleasant green beadboard. The plastered walls above the chair-rail are painted a soft yellow—buttercup or custard if you’re into that sort of thing. High and well out of reach is a plate rail with china and other trinkets tastefully displayed. The hanging artwork resembles a Pairs bistro. Missing from the décor are novelty signs with folksy sayings, and there isn’t a single TV anywhere. Once you’re seated at your table, you’ll notice that the staff is all women. The waitresses wear classic French bistro aprons, and the hostess is the manager doing double duty.

Menu

The menu provides several choices for appetizers, salads, specialties, grilled entrees, and plates of pasta. Their wine list is impressive for a small place. It includes several choices for each grape varietal, so it covers several pages. They have a good selection of beer on tap, including some from the local Williams craft brewery.

I was first attracted to the Filet Oscar. Traditionally it’s a veal dish topped with crab meat, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce. Veal has become persona-non-grata these days, so the chef substituted beef filet in its place. It’s been years since I’ve had any version of Oscar, but then I saw the price. Knowing that we needed gas money to get home, I ordered a New York strip with a side of béarnaise instead. I like to compare with my own. From the list of sides, I chose a couple of things I’ve never had; Southwest Pilaf and Tempura battered Broccolini. Anne also went with a New York strip but smothered hers with mushrooms in a Worcestershire and white wine sauce accompanied with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Our Meals

Anne started with a house salad and vinaigrette dressing. It looked green and fresh. I had the daily soup, which they called Hot Italian Sausage and Vegetable puree. I’m familiar with the Italian Wedding version with a clear broth, but this looked like a lumpy split pea. It didn’t taste like that. The sausage was spicy, and the creamy puree was delicious. I soon annoyed the rest of the guests with my slurping and spoon, trying to scrape every drop out of the bowl.

Next, the mains came out looking appetizing on the plate. Our 8oz steaks were cut in European style—sliced thin with all of the fat trimmed off—more like a cutlet than a chop. I prefer my steaks twice as thick because thinner cuts are often overcooked. Not a problem here. The chef grilled both our steaks a perfect medium-rare. They had good flavor but sadly was a bit on the tough side. I enjoyed the sauce, which was very tangy, just like I make mine. If I had a gripe, it would be with the pilaf. Calling a dish Southwest means that it ran into a jalapeno at least once. My serving was simple pilaf. Anne said that her steak was as she ordered it, but she thought the potatoes were loose.

I usually skip dessert, but Anne insisted on a menu. The Queen picks her deserts by how many times the word chocolate appears in the description. She found one. Chocolate, on top of chocolate, wrapped in chocolate, then run over with a chocolate truck. There was enough cocoa to satiate her because she let me have a bite and took leftovers home in a box.

Conclusion

I can’t entirely agree with rating a restaurant with stars or forks. It’s an obscure concept and doesn’t translate into real-world experiences (especially if it’s an unknown review, like me), so I will do something different. There are no Michelin Star restaurants in Arizona, but we’ve been lucky enough to dine at a few in San Francisco. Nominating a place for a Michelin Star will be my high bar. At the scales other ends, I’m want to use a well-known but mediocre restaurant. I’m using Applebee’s for this review because we’ve all eaten there, and I’ll go to Applebee’s again if there’s nothing better. To me, Applebee’s is … meh!

So, I think that the Red Raven is a few notches above our standard because of its atmosphere, imaginative menus, preparation (the food is cooked in-house), taste, and service. It is not at the Michelin level (yet?), and I agree with the Trip Advisor reviewers. With some improvements, we could stop qualifying our recommendations by saying: “It’s a great restaurant—for Williams.”

Until next time — jw

Red Raven – lunch till 2:00 dinner starts a 5:00.

Eggs Benedict Done Right Nichols West Restaurant A Congress Brightspot

My favorite thing for breakfast is Eggs Benedict. It’s an indulgence that I refuse to give up even though I know that plate full of calories and cholesterol is trying to kill me. By no means am I a traditionalist. I like all the varietals. I’ve tried the Californian with turkey and avocado, the Florentine with spinach, a crab cake version, and one made with salmon. The most exotic and memorable Benedict I’ve ever had was when Jeff and I stopped in Santa Cruz on the homeward bound leg of our infamous San Francisco trip. I believe it was in the Walnut Avenue Café that I ordered Blackened Ahi Tuna Benedict. I don’t know why I’ve never been back. The peppery tuna and lemon creaminess of the sauce was one of the best things I have ever eaten.

I have a version that I make when I’m in the mood to struggle with egg poaching. I substitute a nice thick ham slice instead of the usual Canadian bacon and I replace the Hollandaise with Béarnaise because I enjoy the tarragon and vinegar sauce even more. I call my version Eggs Better-dict.

Eggs Benedict at Nichols West
Craft paper replaces white tablecloths at Nichols West and they make the best Eggs Benedict.

One of the best things about living in Congress is that we have a local restaurant that really doesn’t belong here. A couple blocks west of US 89 on State Route 71 is a small café named Nichols West. It would be in the heart of downtown if Congress had a downtown. The cream-colored building with its star jasmine-covered façade houses a bar and restaurant that seats—at best—fifty people. Simon ­­­Smith—a British transplant—is the proprietor of this American Restaurant and over the last decade, he has built up a large and very loyal clientage here by having a varied menu, serving fresh ingredients, and being open year round. That’s an important part of being able to keep good staff.

As expected from a diner like this, the prices—although reasonable—prevent us—as retieries—from having dinner there every night. However, they’re open for breakfast every morning at eight, and one of the best deals on the breakfast menu is the Eggs Benedict, starting at under $10.00. I say starting because they have a half-dozen versions including a Country Benedict (biscuits and gravy in place of the good stuff). The sauce is the key to making this meal great. Anyone can slap egg yolks and lemons together, but here it’s bright without being too lemony. I don’t recall having a better Hollandaise, and so I’ll put it up against the best in Arizona.

Nichols West In Congress Arizona
Nichols West is a small restaurant that has unexpectedly good food for such a small town.

Out here in Podunk-Ville, we live without a lot of amenities, like sidewalks, stop lights, bike lanes, and indoor toilets. But a great restaurant isn’t one of the missing. That’s why on trash days when Queen Anne and I are heading home from the dump, we’ll most likely be stopping off at Nichols West for breakfast.

Until next time – jw

The Great Springerville Mexican Food Shoot-out

We we’re traveling to a new town, one of the tools we rely on is the Web Site, Trip Advisor. You can search for things to do, hotels and restaurants. It’s like Yelp. The restaurant reviews are pretty helpful, but you have to watch out for people who have an axe to grind. I’ve even written a few reviews. Before our trip to Springerville, one of my chores was to check the restaurant reviews. When I did, I found two of the top-ten restaurants served Mexican food (the 11th ranked restaurant was McDonald’s). One of them is at the top of the list while the other is tenth.

My all time favorite joint for south of the border food is family owned and they have a couple of places in the Phoenix, and another in Springerville. I love their food because it’s New Mexican style. You may have already guessed that I’m talking about Los Dos Molinos. Their main location is on Central Avenue south of Baseline; in the old Tom Mix house (the link is for those who have no idea who Tom Mix was). The food is spicy hot and the Margaritas will knock you back on your spurs. A shock to me was that it is the underdog on Trip Advisor’s list.

The highest ranked place in town is Booga Red’s, and they also serve American and Southwestern (?) style meals. Cars are always parked in front and they’re open for breakfast. The style of their food is Nortino. It’s milder; like you’d expect at Macayo’s.

For the shootout, The Queen and I ate dinner at both restaurants and tried to order the same menu items — which was impossible. The judges are Queen Anne and me, we get one vote each. The common items that we judged are the chips and salsa, the margaritas, a taco and a tamales. I’ll be talking about the other stuff we ordered. Are you ready … bring out the chips and salsa.

Trailer And Gardinias
The sights of Springerville. Vintage trailers as yard-art.

Chips and Salsa

This is the first impression that you get at any place that serves Mexican food. The worst that I ever had was in Salina, Kansas, where they didn’t have a clue, and served cinnamon bun bites instead. There is a big difference between tonight’s candidates.

At Los Dos, they serve red and green salsa. Of course, you don’t really eat it. You only hold the chip over your favorite color and let it absorb the fumes. If you accidentally dip your chip into the salsa, carefully shake it off, and immediately order a glass of milk. Their chips are thicker and darker, but they need to be. If they were thinner, they would instantaneously burst into flames. We didn’t finish the chips and salsa.

Booga Red’s chips are light and thin and taste good, but the salsa is a clone of Pace, the salsa that you buy in Safeway. There aren’t any chunks, not enough jalapeños and no cilantro. We ate all the salsa.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Red Bike
Sights of Springerville. Trailer as yard-art.

Margarita’s

When you order a margarita at Los Dos, they ask you if you want a single, double or three shots of tequila. The mix is distinctly house made. Anne didn’t like it because it was sweet instead of tart, but that didn’t stop her from ordering a second.

I thought the Booga Red’s margarita was indistinguishable from the pre-mixed Costco bottles. The tequila was probably in there but it wasn’t up-front. I still ordered a second.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Trailer With Bunting
Views of Springerville. Trailers as yard-art.

Main

This is where it gets complicated. The nightly special at Los Dos Molinos was Posole which I am very fond of and rarely find on a menu, while Anne ordered a quesadillas at Booga Red’s, so there’s nothing to judge here. I must say that my soup lacked flavor. It needed more seasoning (not just chilies), it needed to simmer longer and it needed more of the ingredients that make up a great Posole, however the pork was fork-tender (as only Los Dos Molinos can do). My other complaint was that Mama’s Carnitas were not on the menu, and that is my favorite and why I go there. As for quesadillas, you can do those in the microwave in fifteen seconds.

(No Score)

Tacos and Tamales

OK, we’re down to the basics. At Los Dos, the tamales was everything you would expect. Course ground masa with a spicy pork filling and, in this case, topped with a red enchilada sauce. If the masa was made with blue corn, I would have died right on the spot. I tried to order a shredded beef taco, but Angelina insisted that I try the Carne Adovada — marinated pork — and I was glad. I can count on one hand the number of tacos that I’ve had better.

Booga Red’s shredded beef taco was very good, and I’d order it again. It was light on flavor but the shell was cooked properly and held up as you ate it. The tamales on the other hand was something I’ve never seen. The masa was light and airy, almost flour like, and it had whole kernels of corn mixed in?!? I ordered mine enchilada style with green chili on top. This close to New Mexico, I expected tears in my eyes, but instead it was a tasty chili gravy. It was good but bland, just like I like my Cream of Wheat.

(Los Dos – 1, Booga Red’s – 1)

Desert (this is actually cheating)

At Los Dos Molinos, Angelina makes her own Sangria, that’s a wine and fruit juice mix. It’s awful and most of us stopped drinking it in the sixties. However, after she makes the wine, she uses the smashed fruit to make an upside-down cake. It’s baked in a skillet like a normal pineapple one, only the fruit marinades the cake half-way through. I’ll be really honest here, pineapple upside-down cake is my favorite and I bake one each year for my birthday. This was better than anything I have ever made, and mine are damn good.

Booga Red’s — < the sound of crickets>.

(Los Dos 2, Booga Red’s – 0, but this doesn’t count)

If you’re keeping score, you’ve noticed that we have a tie. You can tell which of us enjoys a little adventure. Now, I regret to tell everyone that Anne thinks that the best tacos come from … Taco Bell. Because she obviously has no taste, she is disqualified from the judging panel. So, the winner is … whoever you like the most. If you like safe and tasty food, Booga Red’s is the place for you. We both enjoyed our meal there. If you’re one of Satin’s children, I recommend Los Dos Molinos, because it’s beyond the normal.

And now we return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Till then … jw

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