5871 Poplar Avenue
River Oaks is another place that I've always wanted to take the monkeys (Satchel, 8, and Jiro, 6) to, but haven't. When I found out that they were open for lunch (starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday), I decided to take them over the holiday break. Since Warren and I were off on New Year's Eve and the monkeys had plans without us that night (!!), it seemed like the perfect way to end the year.
I made a reservation, but we didn't need it. There were only about 2-3 other tables full when we got there. (A function of the holiday, I'm sure.) It was nice having it all to ourselves.
Our waiter came over, introduced himself, and took our drink orders. We opted for waters all around, except for Jiro, who doesn't consider it a meal at a restaurant without a Sprite, or some other sugary drink. It's just easier to let him get one that to argue the point. He usually has about three sips.
I had printed out the lunch menu a few days earlier and had been studying it. That, however, didn't keep me from wringing my hands when it came time to order. I let everyone else go first. The famous burger was an easy sell for Jiro, especially when I told him it had bacon inside.
Satchel, who insists on reading the menu himself, wanted to order about $75 worth of food. I talked him down to a baby spinach salad and a French dip. The spinach salad had these words underneath it on the menu: fresh farm eggs, croutons, and bacon. Sold! Warren really pushed him towards the French dip, because he was torn between that and the French Cuban sandwich.
I figured that I'd inherit half of Satchel's salad and/or sandwich and somebody's fries, so I ordered the crab cakes, which are an appetizer, as my entree.
Satchel's salad came out first. Watching him eat it nearly sent me over the edge.
He started off by just picking off the eggs and croutons with his fingers. I informed him that he had to use his fork. (Much easier said than done.) He complained that getting the croutons on the fork was impossible. Eventually he used his fingers to cram his bite on the fork and then he ate from the fork.
The waiter had brought us all bread and was very good about filling up our waters. Too good. He actually filled Jiro's Sprite with water. (Satchel dubbed it "Spriter.") Our waiter was quite busy now that he had two tables to deal with, so I tried to keep Jiro calm while I patiently got his attention. After five or so minutes, as he rushed by, I told him that he had put water in Jiro's Sprite and motioned to the glass. About five more minutes later, he brought over another Sprite for Jiro. Problem solved. (But, more on this later...)
Satchel still had about half of his salad, mostly baby spinach, left when the food arrived. I told Warren to work on it, and he did. Satchel's French dip looked great and came with the peppers on the side as we had asked. I was happy to see that Chef Jose kept his French Fry presentation from Encore.
Warren was pleased by the looks of his Cuban, and happily said, "I didn't know it came with fries." (The menu didn't specify "pomme frites" as it had with a couple of other sandwich options.)
I had a bite and it was yummy. I credit the Gruyere cheese and fancy mustard.
Warren was horrified when I ordered Jiro's burger with cheddar and ketchup on the side. And when it arrived, I could see why. BOR-ING. (Other cheese options are Gruyere & blue. You can also get carmelized onions and bacon for $2 each.)
Jiro's first question was, "Where's the bacon?" Not the $2 added on bacon, but the bacon inside. The menu reads, "Chef Jose's sirloin burger with bacon bits on a crusty roll." When I read bacon bits, I think of crusty bits of bacon. Turns out the bacon is ground up with the beef before the burger is cooked. (I think I would say sirloin and pork burger, but that's just me. Saying bacon is obviously sexier.)
Regardless, Jiro said his burger was delicious, and I can attest to it. He gave me one bite, but gobbled down the rest.
And finally, I present to you, my crab cakes. (And no, I don't recommend calling them crab balls on the menu.)
I stared for a minute. While they looked delicious, I was expecting something else. Again, I defer to the menu, which reads, "crab cakes with seasonal greens, avocado, mango, citrus vinaigrette."
"I think my mango and avocado are missing," I said sadly. Nope. Not missing. They were in the vinaigrette. I'd like to edit the punctuation on that description to read, "crab cakes with seasonal greens dressed in an avocado, mango, & citrus vinaigrette."
Again, regardless, the crab cakes were delicious and I very much enjoyed my salad. Had I any willpower, I would have just enjoyed my lunch as is. But I was surrounded by French fries! And I don't know what they do to those potatoes, but the French fries are rad. I ate waaaay too many.
Satchel, who was clearly getting full, started spelling things out with the fries.
Our waiter came by and I let him know that we were ready for the check. Satchel whimpered, "What about dessert? You said I could get some key lime pie."
"I said you could get it if you ate your lunch," I reminded him, motioning to his nearly untouched sandwich. He picked up the half he started on and promised to have it finished by the time the pie came out.
The waiter then picked up his plate with the other half and his remaining fries and Satchel panicked. "I'll eat those later, I promise!" The waiter laughed and said he was going to pack them up for him. (We don't get to fine dine too often so Satchel is used to packing up his own leftovers!) It was returned in a very nice, compost-friendly, non-styrofoam to go box. I love Project Green Fork certified restaurants!
While we waited for the pie, I took the boys to wash up. The bathroom was gorgeous. There was even a flat screen TV above the sink showing Martha TV. (Not surprisingly, no changing table.)
Back at the table, we had an amazing piece of key lime pie waiting. Satchel dared to take a bite before I got a picture! It was delicious.
When it was all gone, I asked for the check and sent the boys outside. They were getting antsy, and for whatever reason things were slowing down with the service. I had a bit of a shock when I saw our $77 ticket. Those fancy sandwiches and salads sure add up! It was fine. I was expecting to pay a bit more than usual. However, I was annoyed to see that I had been charged for two $2 Sprites. First off, I only ordered the second one because the waiter ruined the first one. Let's assume that the waiter didn't quite get what I was telling him about him pouring water in Jiro's Sprite. The waiter probably didn't understand why Jiro's crazy mom felt he needed two full Sprites at one time. Regardless, couldn't River Oaks offer free refills like every other restaurant in this city? I don't mind paying $12 for a burger, or even $2 extra to put onions or bacon on it (okay maybe the onions). I do mind being nickled and dimed on drinks.
There, I said it.
I would still recommend River Oaks, but for dinner. Pay the big bucks for the really amazing food, not just burgers and fries. But go early and not on a busy night if you have your monkeys!