"Where do you want to eat?"

"Where do you want to eat?" generally followed by a responding "I don't know" is an exchange that is a little too familiar for a lot of today's diners. With an abundance of restaurants to choose from, deciding on one common restaurant to satisfy the desire for a good meal can seem daunting. Now enter the motivation behind this blog. The city of Great Falls has a multitude of restaurants to choose from, offering a wide variety of options depending on the dining experience you seek. A good number of these restaurants are "chains", corporate giants offering the same menus in a variety of locations throughout the country. Nothing personal against these chain restaurants, but especially in today's economy, it is incredibly important to support local businesses. When the public invests in locally-owned buisnesses, the money is recycled back into the local community. Therefore, this blog will only feature the locally-owned restaurants of Great Falls. Each week, one local restaurant will be featured and reviewed, with the intent that the next time "where do you want to eat?" is proposed, a locally-owned business will be supported.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dante's Creative Cuisine

Sitting at a table in Dante's, one would be hard pressed to allow the use of gold within the establishment to go unnoticed.
Dominating the interior, gold is embedded throughout the entire restaurant, creating an ambiance of class, luxury, and wealth.  Gold chandeliers hang from an ornate, bronzed gold tiled ceiling.  Shiny golden banisters line the walkways, reflecting the light from the chandeliers.  Each table has a golden, oil-burning candle, flickering on top of the stark white tablecloths.

Hanging on the building's original brick walls, local canvas paintings are available for purchase.  Foliage hangs from the ceilings and also creates boundaries within the restaurant, creating a smaller, more intimate setting. 

In contrast to authentic Italian design, Dante's interior design is not meant to detract from the quality of their food, but rather to enhance the luxurious aspect of the overall dining experience.

Dante's takes pride in the preparation of the meal, as is illustrated by the respective prices of each meal.  Each item on the menu is unique to the restaurant, and individually crafted, thereby justifying the higher then average price tag.

Featured in this review is a three course meal containing the Caprese Bruschetta for $8.95, followed by the Shrimp Scampi for $24.95, and culminating with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Stack for $4.50, all highly recommended by the black-clad waitress wearing an elegant, floor-length apron.

(left) Caprese Bruschetta, (above) warm fresh bread, (right) house salad with homemade Gorgonzola

The Caprese Bruschetta was a perfect starter.  Diced tomatoes, basil, olive oil and fresh Mozzarella is prepared on top of sliced Bruschetta bread.  There was a hint of garlic (I'm assuming a garlic butter was spread on the bread prior to the toppings), which was subdued by the strong flavor of the fresh basil.  With four pieces, the intent of this appetizer is not to satisfy hunger, but to make you hungry for more.

Warm bread followed the appetizer.  For dipping, the waitress prepared a balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic mixture at the table-side by crushing a fresh garlic clove and mixing it with the oil and vinegar.  This mixture created a unique taste that can best be described as sweet and tangy at the same time.

Prior to the arrival of the main dish, a house salad is served.  Mixed in with bed of fresh greens, Dante's creates their own house Gorgonzola dressing.  This rich and creamy dressing gives the salad a unique, almost sweet taste.

Following the house salad, the Shrimp Scampi was brought to the table.  Ordered "A la Dante's", jumbo shrimp were sauteed in butter, garlic, lemon and white wine, mixed in a garlic-cream sauce, and served over linguine.  Beautifully presented, a rosemary sprig rested on top of the bed of pasta, and gave the dish an authentic-like rustic aroma.  Each flavor in this smooth and creamy dish was discernable.  The basil contrasted the garlic in the cream-based sauce.  True to their name, the jumbo shrimp were large, plump and meaty.  They had a fresh taste, complimented by the garlic cream sauce they were bathed in. 

In an effort to gain a complete, well-rounded appreciation for Dante's, I inquired about a dessert menu.  Moments later the waitress appeared at the table carrying a tray full of samples of the desserts Dante's has to offer.  After explaining each item on the tray, she recommended the Chocolate Peanut Butter Stack. 
Presented on a plate covered in chocolate and caramel drizzle, this bar has layers upon layers of rich, decadent flavor.  At the base is chocolate cake (or brownie), topped with layers of peanut butter, crunchy wafers, creamy fudge, walnuts and a gooey caramel sauce.

The overall dining experience of Dante's is that of class and sophistication.  Dante's offers patrons an escape form the daily grind of life to a place of elegance and luxury, both with the decor of the establishment, as well as with the food prepared within.  Although anyone is welcome in this establishment of casual fine dining, this would be a restaurant I would reserve for special occasions. 

Dante's is the perfect environment for romantic occasions or special celebrations, not necessarily geared toward family outings or casual get-togethers.  For a unique, classic, and more refined dining experience, Dante's offers just that.  Dante's Creative Cuisine offers a dining experience not commonly found elsewhere in Great Falls. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rikki's Pizza and Pasta

The Paycheck family is evidence of the fact that family ties run strong in this town.  In addition to owning and operating Ryan's Station, Rikki's is also owned by the Paycheck family.  Rikki's and Ryan's Station are namesakes, both named after the two brothers, thus creating the brother restaurants.  Located just south of 10th Ave South on ninth street, Rikki's is a modest establishment that has much to offer.

The restaurant has a very modern, sophisticated look to it.  The interior is painted in dark rich tones, the dim lighting complimenting the colors nicely.  Each table has its own lamp that descends from the geometrically designed ceiling which helps to enhance the restaurant's size.  Rikki's seems to be a believer in the "less is more" theory when it comes to decorations, minimal landscape artwork and flowered wreaths being the only interior decorations.  The soft music playing in the background helps to diminish the chatter amongst the other diners while simultaneously adding to the overall classy feel of the restaurant.

The hostess greets you upon entry so there is no wait time, asking your seating preference as she takes you back.  Once seated, Chris, the friendliest waiter yet since I began these reviews and the only one to make introductions, brought water to the table.  He was incredibly patient while the menu was analyzed, and offered his honest opinions on dishes, helping to achieve a satisfactory decision on the meal.

Reflecting the name of the establishment, the menu at Rikki's is that of predominately pizza and pastas.  Unique to Rikki's is the Greek Ziti (ziti with Sicilian pesto, red onions, roasted bell peppers, Kalamata olives, and green beans with white wine and a garlic-herb butter topped with feta cheese) for $11.95, as well as the Angry Lobster Linguine (lobster, pancetta, caramelized onions, asparagus, roasted garlic and linguine in a spicy white wine tomato sauce) for $14.95.  In contrast to its brother restaurant, Rikki's has options available for those who are seeking a healthy meal out.  A fresh veggie pizza topped with tomato sauce and herbs, broccoli, mushrooms, red onions, roasted red and yellow bell peppers, Roma tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese, would be a satisfactory, guilt-free option.  Rikki's also offers a Greek Pi (Sicilian pesto, black olives, red onions, diced tomatoes, pepperonchinis, topped with Mozzarella and feta cheeses with an oregano and balsamic drizzle) is advertised at $12.95.  Other vegetarian options are marked throughout the menu.  Also offered are salads and sandwiches, similar to those found at Rikki's brother establishment, Ryan's Station.  Sandwiches range in value from $7.95 to $8.50 while salads are anywhere from $8 to $10.

To start, Chris suggested the Baked Lobster and Mascarpone Dip for $9.75.  Served with sliced foccaccia bread, this dip was absolutely delicious.  Bubbling upon arrival, the creamy dip was so rich and flavorful, you almost want to skip the foccaccia bread altogether and eat the dip with a spoon.  Not wanting to leave any amount behind, you may even be tempted to lick the bowl.  Were it not for the main course, you would be sad to finish this amazing appetizer.

Luckily, the Spaghetti Squash Saute is equally pleasing.  Although priced at $12.95, the price is fair for the amount and quality of the meal.  Sauteed with broccoli, green beans, carrots, green onions, diced tomatoes, roasted garlic in a garlic-herb butter and topped with Parmesan cheese, the spaghetti squash saute looks identical to a plate of yellow spaghetti.  The squash has an almost sweet, buttery taste to it, giving it its unique flavor.  The temperature of the food was perfect, allowing you to enjoy your meal from the moment it is placed before you.

In lieu of a dessert menu, Rikki's offers a dessert tray.  This unique idea gives you the option to see your dessert before you place your order.  You can view all dessert options, and choose the one that looks the most tempting.  The dessert tray is a great tactic and useful tool for the diner.  A simple picture in a dessert menu would not have done the Chocolate Toffee Mousse Cheesecake justice.  Presented on a plate of chocolate drizzle, this cheesecake is so rich and creamy, the taste is identical to a chocolate truffle.  A ribbon of toffee is weaved throughout the slice, adding a subtle but welcomed contrast in flavor.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, but you know it was an enjoyable experience when you are somewhat reluctant to leave.  The staff at Rikki's makes you feel so welcomed and right at home.  A great place for families to venture for a special night out, Rikki's is also suitable for couples looking for a nice, quiet environment to enjoy each other's company in.

Like its brother, Rikki's also offers a party room.  Doubling in size, Rikki's party room has the ability to offer personalized service for up to 50 people.  This room is also available by reservation, and can be reserved by calling 406-761-8052.  The next time you are looking for a venue to host an event or just a relaxing night out consider Rikki's, you will not be disappointed with the experience.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ryan's Station

  Alongside the railroad tracks just north of the Sun River lies Ryan's Station, a moderately sized restaurant, bustling with activity.  This modest establishment almost has a pub-like feel to it, with the subdued tones and modern artwork adorning the walls.  The soft lighting creates a complimenting ambiance, giving you a relaxing environment with which to enjoy your meal.  The noise level is kept to a minimum:  the acoustics of the restaurant minimize any background chatter by other diners so as not to drown your own conversations out.

Upon entry to this restaurant, the friendly staff, dressed in matching black polo's, greet you instantaneously with a smile and lead you to a seat, thus eliminating any kind of wait time.  Creating a sense of neighborly friendship, the servers maintain a casual relationship with their patrons.  Carrying on conversations, joking and laughing when appropriate, they add to the overall "at-home" feel of the place.

Boasting with variety, the menu offers a wide selection of dishes to choose from.  Depending on your appetite, Ryan's Station offers options such as salads, paninis, tacos, pasta and steaks, among other entrees.  Beer is available on tap as well as bottled, and an extensive list of cocktails adult diners can peruse.  Prices are modest:  most sandwiches are marked around $7.95, including the Portobello Mushroom sandwich (a portobello mushroom grilled with onions and peppers, topped with lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, and a red wine vinaigrette, all on a grilled bun).  The Baked Seafood Penne (rock crab, shrimp and artichoke hearts mixed in with alfredo sauce and penne pasta, topped with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs) comes in at the top of the price spectrum at $15.95.  Unfortunately, there are little to no healthy meal options available at this establishment.  If healthy dining is your intention, Ryan's Station does offer a Grilled Walleye (walleye fillet grilled with ginger-lime butter and topped with Parmesan garlic bread crumbs) for $14.95, but other healthy dishes are few and far between.

Featured for the evening at Ryan's Station were the Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip (creamy blend of cheeses, rock crab and artichokes served with Parmesan garlic toast), followed by the Baked Mac and Cheese (macaroni baked in a creamy Fontina and cheddar cheese sauce topped with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs).  Within 15 minutes, the appetizer arrived at the table.  Bubbling over with melting cheese, the creamy dip was served piping hot.  After only about five minutes the dip had cooled, and paired with the Parmesan garlic toast for dipping, was outstanding.  The proportions of crab and artichoke were just right, each bite containing plenty of both.

Not long after the appetizer arrived, the waitress brought out the main course.  Tucked neatly underneath a layer of melted Parmesan cheese, the Mac and Cheese was rich and creamy.  Dusted and browned to perfection, the layering of toasted, crumbly Parmesan cheese provided a subtle crunch to the otherwise soft texture of the meal which complimented nicely.  This comfort food of all comfort foods has an aroma that can envoke nostalgic memories, all you have to do is close your eyes.

Only a rich, decadent dessert would have been worthy to follow such a rich, flavorful meal.  Midnight Craving is the kind of dessert that will rise to the occasion.  Sitting on a plate drizzled with chocolate sauce with two maraschino cherries nestled against it, this large, three layered piece of chocolate cake is plenty for two to share.  Topped with mini chocolate chips and each layer separated by a thick layer of fudge, rich doesn't even begin to describe the flavor of this cake, which would satisfy the worst of chocolate cravings.

The arrival of the bill came all too quickly.  You can't help but feel rushed when the check is brought out before you have been given the opportunity to order a dessert, which is what happened during this meal.  Perhaps the vast amount of leftovers from the meal sent the message that dessert was not even going to be considered, but what's a night out without dessert?

All in all, Ryan's Station offers a very comfortable and enjoyable experience for any number of people.  Families feel right at home, casual couples can enjoy a relaxed environment, and coworkers can unwind after a long day at work.  Even laid back sports fans would enjoy themselves, entertained by any one of the ten television sets that border the ceiling throughout the establishment.  A party room is also available with reservations.  Advertised as seating up to 25 people and providing personal service, Ryan's Station can cater to most any kind of event in this private, secluded room.  No matter the motivation behind your night out, the combination of great food, friends, and environment found at Ryan's Station is sure to please.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bert and Ernie's

 Week one features "Bert and Ernie's", a historic restaurant nestled in the heart of downtown Great Falls.  Featuring the original tin ceiling and painted brick exterior of the building built in the early 1900's, Bert and Ernie's offers a casual dining experience, and has done so since 1977.  Antique collectibles and local modern art adorn the walls of this establishment, adding to the warm atmosphere created by the dark rich colors of the interior, and soft lighting from the classic features throughout.

  There was little to no wait time on a Thursday night at seven o'clock.  The friendly staff greet you with a smile at the door, and seat you promptly, checking to see if you are comfortable in the seat provided.  Without asking, waters are brought to the table and within minutes, the waitress appears to take your order.

  The menu offers a large variety of choices, from salads and sandwiches to steaks and seafood.  Bert and Ernie's lays claim to a few unique dishes as well, such as the Turkey Thuringer for lunch (turkey sandwich with curried cream cheese) or the Artichoke Chicken Saute for dinner (artichokes and chicken sauteed together with white wine, butter and garlic, served over penne pasta).  If healthy dining is your concern, Bert and Ernie's offers vegetarian variations upon request.  For those who are burger lovers, Bert and Ernie's offers a buffalo burger, one of the few restaurants in Great Falls that do, titled the Pishkun Burger, advertised as being a leaner burger option.

  A three course meal is spotlighted for this establishment.  To start, the waitress recommended the homemade potato chips, served with homemade ranch for dipping.  Likened to the "Tim's" brand of potato chips, the potato chips were crisp and full of potato chip flavor, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy of this appetizer.  Salmon was then ordered for the main course, and shortly followed the finishing of the appetizer.  There were two options available for the preparation of the salmon:  grilled in a honey glaze or blackened "New Orleans style".  Being that the latter was the spicier of the two options, the former was chosen.  The presentation of the meal was neat and proportionate, while the amount of food given was ideal.  The taste was excellent.  The pairing of the honey with the fish gave it a unique flavor that was very pleasing to the palate.  To finish, the dessert special was ordered, a Black Forest Cheesecake with cherries.  The presentation alone of the cheesecake was mouthwatering.  Sitting on top of drizzled chocolate sauce, this rich, creamy cheesecake is enough for two to share comfortably.  

From left to right:   Homemade Potato Chips, Honey Glazed Salmon, Black Forest Cheesecake
  Although seemingly trivial, the presentation of the bill plays a critical role in the overall dining experience.  Getting the bill too quickly (perhaps before you have had the chance to order that last piece of cheesecake) and you feel rushed.  A seemingly endless wait for the bill becomes tiresome and frustrating.  Within five minutes of clearing the last dirty dishes from the table, the waitress presented us with our bill, and at $24.45 for a three course meal, it did not break the bank.

  To enhance your dining experience, Bert and Ernie's offers a unique venue for local bands to play live music most evenings from 7 to 10.  This restaurant offers a little something for everyone.  It is a family restaurant, a casual restaurant, a "first date" restaurant, and a "night out with friends" restaurant.  If an enjoyable night out is what you seek, Bert and Ernie's is a safe choice to make. 
Aunt Funky's Bluegrass Jam