20 February 2015

Some new favorites in Omaha

After driving across Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska to reach my new home of northern Colorado twelve years ago, I made a vow to myself that I would never drive across the states of Nebraska or Iowa again (Illinois gets a pass because I occasionally visit family).  The hot July day in 2003 that I spent trapped in my '97 Saturn taught me that Omaha has the most traffic in the state, and that there is a lot of construction; that was all I cared to know.  So, it was with great delight that I learned on a recent tour with my trio that Omaha is actually a very nice little city! There are a variety of neighborhoods with different feels to them, and there are definitely some good restaurants and bars worth the stop.  Here were a couple of my favorites:

Dario's Brasserie The inside is an old-school, warmly lit French restaurant you'd expect to see in a movie, as you can see from the picture above. The menu is also pretty traditional French, though they have a penchant for interesting Belgian beers. I desperately wanted the Chicken Waterzooi, and they were unapologetically out that night with no chicken dish to substitute.  When I reluctantly ordered the steak frites, I was amazed at how happy it made me.  Perfectly cooked, perfect seasoning, perfect crisp-tender vegetables...the cartoonish mountain of frites would have been great to share if I'd had any takers.  The organic king salmon was also very nice, and the moules a la flamanade had the most extraordinary sauce I'd ever tasted.

You can stumble around all night doing this at Brix.

Brix at Midtown Crossing is in a new-looking shopping district.  Sleek and brightly lit by day (appropriately dark in the restaurant side at night), this wine shop/ market/ bar/ restaurant serves a mind-boggling number of wines, by the bottle, glass, or sample pour from Vegas-style dispensers located around the perimeter of the eating space.  But if wine isn't for you, the beer selection is quite varied, and the cocktails are expertly made.  The Manhattan I had was rich and syrupy, and the dirty martini I tried from several at the table was well-balanced and generous in size.  As a snack, I am still patting myself on the back for having the willpower to resist the fried cheese curds.  The flatbread was cheesy enough, and the mixed veggies and balsamic reduction were just right.

This is Pitch's very beautiful professional pic of our pizza, not mine. 

Pitch Pizzeria has more than just pizza, but who doesn't want pizza?  The salads are also some of the most fascinating, creative things I have seen on a menu, so we got a salad and a pizza and shared.  The long-stem artichoke salad had white beans, red onion, ricotta, and cherry tomatoes, all to complement the beautifully grilled artichokes promised in the title. We got the Bianco Verde pizza, which had more ricotta (?!), prosciutto, caramelized onion, arugula, and mozarella on a thin, crispy, coal-fired crust. Sadly, we had a gig that night and chose not to show up drunk, but the beer and wine list looked great, too. It's in some hipster neighborhood called Dundee, and all the skinny jeans-wearers were perfectly nice.

I forgot to mention that silly little orange everyone got. 

Sakura Bana might have offered the best deals of any sushi restaurant I have ever visited, and it is very conveniently located near the UNO campus, if you're headed that way.  It's in a bit of a dense shopping area and is tucked into the parking lot a little bit, so use you GPS.  I had a lunch special (Combination C, for those of you wondering), which included miso soup, a generous portion of chicken teriyaki--the best, most delicately flavored sauce I've ever had, actually--rice, a large salad with delicious sesame dressing, three pieces of California roll (not my favorite, but this was really good), and two other pieces of fish, a white fish and piece of tuna. The fish was tender, briny, and in good condition, and I was so full I didn't need dinner for a looong time.  They also served matcha as their standard tea, which was delicious and much appreciated (by me).

(PS--Housing: The Embassy Suites at Downtown/Old Market was fine, but as always, they nickel and dime you to death for the parking and wireless.  I did enjoy being called sweetie by the breakfast cook who gave me about 10 pieces of bacon in the morning, however. But I discovered a new favorite in Staybridge Suites near UNO on Dodge; rooms were amazing, breakfast, happy hour, and free light dinners mid-week were all delish, and the staff were very helpful.  I recommend it highly.)

In conclusion, Omaha is a nice place and you needn't complain about going there.  The rest of the state is still a very boring drive, though.  Sorry, Nebraska--I LOVE YOU ALL!!!