Dave & Busters + Updates: Carmine's, SoupHerb, Quaker Steak

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Dave & Buster's
4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Dave & Buster's
Phone: 716.932.2515
Rating:    [learn more]
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"The prices at Dave & Buster's are attractive, aggressive even if you're buying arcade game credits along with your meal, but the food quality is sub-par. "

We're going to make our recent drought of articles up to you with something really special in November - we promise. But for now, another very busy past week has led us to assemble another wrap-up article, including one brief new review, and three Second Helping looks at restaurants we've previously visited but wanted to update in the ratings department. The new restaurant is Dave & Buster's, followed by Second Helpings at Carmine's, SoupHerb Gourmet, and Quaker Steak & Lube.

Dave & Buster's: We're not going to call what follows a full review of Dave & Buster's - it's not - but we're very familiar with the chain from our years in California, where its arcade machines, pool tables, and sports bar areas were bigger draws than its restaurants. For that reason, and though we've had a couple of meals at the chain in past years, we weren't under any illusions that we were about to have an outstanding experience when we arrived at the Eastern Hills Mall location for dinner. We would have been satisfied with something good, and impressed with anything more.

Unfortunately, Dave & Buster's snuck in under on our modest expectations, and across-the-board blandness was to blame - virtually everything tasted as if it had been under heat lamps for too long. We started with an Appetizer Trio ($10), which included some of the most flavorless potato skins we've ever eaten, decent tortilla chips with a not-so-great, brownish cheese dip, and a few "hot" chicken wings that weren't very spicy, and in even such a small quantity weren't really even worth finishing. A bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup ($3.59) looked really good - colorful, multi-textured, and thick with strips of cheese and fried tortilla - but had little flavor, and our entrees followed suit: the Island Grilled Trifecta ($13.39), with dried, honey-teriyaki coated sirloin steak, very plain grilled shrimp, and even more bland grilled chicken breast pieces, all on skewers, and none with any sort of great flavor. They were served with dipping sauces and a large bed of lightly spiced and vegetable-flecked rice that was actually better than any of the meat. Last but not least, the Greek Salad with Lemon-Herb Grilled Chicken ($8.69) arrived looking photo perfect - brightly colored with sliced red onions, peppers, cucumbers, greens, and tomatoes - yet it didn't taste great;

Though we're not rating Dave & Buster's today, we wouldn't go back for another meal, and don't expect to issue it a rating in the future. Our advice to those planning to visit for the entertainment would be to enjoy the sports bar and flat screen TVs, old-ish arcade games and nice pool tables for what they are, but not to expect anything great from the kitchen. The prices here are attractive, aggressive even if you buy arcade game credits along with your meal, but the food quality is sub-par.

Dave & Buster's Grand Sports Cafe on Urbanspoon

Carmine's: Back in May when we were exploring local "tapas" options - and noting that what was locally being billed as tapas was really anything but the authentic Spanish dishes we and others have come to love outside of Western New York - we visited Williamsville's Carmine's, an Italian restaurant that has continued to offer Thursday night tapas in the form of small, largely Italian sampler plates. Tapas it wasn't and isn't, but we liked it anyway, and wanted to return to sample more of the menu before issuing a rating.

Good news: Carmine's is still serving "tapas" alongside its otherwise familiar Italian menu. Bad news: the tapas options have changed, and are now less interesting than the ones we sampled from months ago. Teriyaki Vegetables? Boneless Wings? Seriously? On a tapas menu? Most of the items were just Italian dishes in small sizes, but we actually struggled to find items we wanted to try, and one of us opted out of the tapas altogether because they just weren't compelling.

After poring over the selections this time, we settled on the Fried Clams ($5), an accurately but plainly named dish: what arrived was a nice plate of very large, heavily breaded clam strips with a slightly spicy marinara dip, and though the flavors weren't fantastic, they worked well enough together to satisfy us - the clam meat was buried, but quite good. Another pick was a small portion of Lasagna ($5), which caught our eye on the menu due to mentions of both sausage and ground beef, but from the tomato sauce to the layered pasta and cheese, it all tasted a bit flat. We were most excited about a dish called Tequila Lime Shrimp ($6), billed as four tequila lime butter-sauteed jumbo shrimp served over linguini, but what arrived was little more than a plate of dry linguini with three large shrimp inside. The shrimp were legitimately tasty due to their size and moisture, but had very little flavor besides their natural taste.

Separately, we ordered the full-sized Chicken Parmesan entree ($13), which was moist but otherwise unremarkable - not worth finishing, we both felt - and two desserts: a legitimately wonderful, surprisingly light piece of Raspberry Mousse Chocolate Cake that was topped with miniature chocolate chips and powdered sugar, and though Carmine's Cannoli Chambord was sadly not available, one of us liked and the other loved a set of two miniature regular Cannolis. The desserts were the best parts of an otherwise unremarkable meal.

Averaging our meals together, we'd rate Carmine's at 2.5 stars - good enough to revisit, but not consistent enough to excite us, particularly in the tapas department. This is a quality Italian restaurant with occasional sparks of greatness, particularly in the dessert department; those looking for a good Italian meal will be pleased but not blown away by the food, and should the tapas menu receive an upgrade, it may well be worthy of visits from foodies, as well.

SoupHerb Gourmet: Though we don't have a lot to add to our prior review of SoupHerb Gourmet, we've visited three times since our first report, and we've had the same experience each time: a low-key meal with three-star caliber food. The place isn't fancy, its menu is small, and the highlights are basically soups and sandwiches - sadly, our favorite soup, the Red Pepper Gouda, has only been available on one other occasion. But all of the items we've tried have been very good: we've had tomato, vegetable, and chicken soups, sandwiches and wraps - basically everything save for the desserts, either in the restaurant or as take out. We've fallen in love with a grilled vegetable wrap, which has on two occasions thrilled us with the size and freshness of the portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and peppers inside, problematic only in the scalding hot liquid - runoff from the vegetables, we think - that always seems to drip out of its bottom. That aside, we've had no complaints here; SoupHerb Gourmet is a small place with disproportionately good food, and if the list of soups was more predictable, we'd probably be inclined to visit more often.

Quaker Steak & Lube: We covered this chicken wing and rib chain's Western New York opening with genuine excitement in late 2008, and have visited on several occasions since the first two that formed the basis of our review. As we noted last December in our three-star rating, "a 2.75-star rating would have been possible if we issued quarter stars," and in the intervening period, we've introduced quarter-star ratings, but we've also revised our view on Quaker Steak's food.

Each time we've stopped by Quaker Steak since last year, the meals we've had - most notably but not exclusively the wings - have been well short of our first experiences there. After giving it one last shot this past week, we've decided to take the rare step of markedly decreasing our rating to account for the diminished quality we've experienced on these visits. Regardless of the type of wings we've ordered, and whether we've had them fresh from the kitchen, as take out, or from one of the place's two types of buffets, they've been extremely unimpressive: on the dry side, not hot enough in spice or temperature, and only decent in size. Other dishes we've ordered have also been forgettable; the only things that have gotten better are the complimentary after-meal Twizzlers, which are no longer the old, dried-out stock that was originally being served. Apart from this throwaway part of the meal, whatever has happened at Quaker Steak has severely reduced our interest in dining here again; our hope is that it turns around its kitchen and offers patrons a reason to see its wings as special - right now, apart from the crazy hot Atomics, we wouldn't have any reason to rush back.

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