A Hit and a Miss – Of Craft Beer and Japanese Steakhouses

This weekend marks the start of Craft Beer week in Gainesville. There are a number of festivities going on at the various tap rooms and local breweries. There is even something called the Brew Bus that will take you around town to these various locations so you can sup your suds without the worry of driving. All of this culminating in the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival on April 18th. Already have my ticket and am ready for much beer tasting.

With all of that going on you would think that our hardy band of craft beer lovers would be involved in something related to these events last Friday night. Rowdy suggested we try a new place and truth be told I had seen a write-up in one of the papers about this place and thought about trying it myself. It’s called Curia on the Drag and is located near what used to be the Gainesville Animal Hospital. The concept of the place is a Coffee, Tea, Beer and Wine stop. It is intended as a kind of resting place for the local art community and includes a building outback called the “Fermenter”. If you’re reading this then you may have assumed, as I did, that the “Fermenter” was where they would build a micro-brewery. But, like me, you would be wrong. The Fermenter is actually a studio where different artists can go and work on their pieces.

So a haven for artists is not where I would normally connect craft beer. But then craft beer could also be considered by some as an art form. It is certainly a creative expression as is most art.

I arrived first and was greeted by the director Zack Kennedy. I told him it was my first time there and I was interested in their craft beers and asked what they had on tap. He motioned toward the taps behind and named off all three.

That’s right three taps. Now before you roll your eyes and start crossing this place off your list, read on. Zack also mentioned a small refrigerated case on the side of the counter that contained some hard to find craft beers in cans. And he also pointed out a row of bottled beers on display on a high shelf over the counter. All in all I would say he had between 30 and 40 different beers to choose from as well as a couple of ciders and a ginger beer.

I had just gotten a draft of JDub’s Poolside when the Maestro joined me. He ordered a Dale’s Pale Ale. Then we went and sat and waited for the others to arrive. We both liked the atmosphere of the place. It’s small and kinda kitschy but it is still a decent place to hangout and start your weekend. I especially liked the wooden bar that resembles a gator hide (see picture below).

Alligator hide design in counter at Curia
Alligator hide design in counter at Curia

Rowdy soon showed up, followed by the Cooler. Then the Newlyweds joined us along with the Lovebirds. Our small party took up a good portion of the shop. Luckily for other patrons they have a small section of the side in the curio area and a little patio as well.

Cowboy cookie and Sixpoint Abigail 2015
Cowboy cookie and Sixpoint Abigail 2015

I already mentioned coffee and tea and wine as well as beer. I didn’t get a chance to eye the wine list but I did see the various types of tea they served and they use Sweetwater Brewing for their coffee, which is a locally operated coffee roasting business. They also have assorted cookies available for munching and I had the Cowboy, which was delicious. Don’t know if they’re made in house or ordered in.

Zack was certainly knowledgable about craft beers. And freely shared what he knew about them including recommendations. He and the young lady working with him were certainly friendly enough and helpful. This place is definitely worth a look see and I would go back again. My only concern is the limited number of taps and whether or not any of those and the cans and bottles are rotated out with different selections or whether it is a steady menu.  Overall this place scored a big hit for me.

Bus behind curia - artwork in progress?
Bus behind curia – artwork in progress?

After a couple of beers I believe the Maestro left to go watch the gator baseball game. And not too long after that I felt the need for dinner and declared that “I need to either go home or go get something to eat!”  The Newlyweds decided to head home but the Lovebirds, Rowdy, the Cooler and I decided to go for Japanese Steakhouse. I believe I suggested it so what happens next is partly my fault.

We went to the closest of the options available to us, the Samurai Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar in the Publix Plaza on the corner of 13th ST & 39th AVE. I had been there once before with an old girlfriend for Sushi which was good. But she had a thing about hibachi bars so we didn’t go into that part of the restaurant. I wanted hibachi because I like dinner and a show. Let’s be honest, the food at a hibachi bar is usually the same no matter what bar you go to. The difference is in the cooks who work the hibachi. The flare of the knives and the interaction with the customers is what sets them apart. Being an amateur cook I appreciate and take note of their techniques.

I think I remember hearing the hostess say that they had a big party getting ready to leave but I can’t swear to that. After a small wait (not even five minutes) the five of us were seated at the hibachi with two other couples, one of which had a small boy with them. Rowdy said that was awesome because when there are kids at the hibachi the chef will show off a lite bit more. I agree.

Sake carafe and serving cup
Sake carafe and serving cup

The waiter came and took a head count and got our drink orders. I ordered Sake because I always order Sake with either Sushi or Hibachi. And when it arrived it was served hot in the carafe with two small cups. Traditionally, Sake should be shared and each party should pour for the other though after the first cup I usually forgo that part of the ritual. The Sake tasted clean and clear and slightly sweet with a little bite at the end. I enjoyed that. For those who don’t know Sake is sometimes referred to as rice wine which is actually misleading. Sake isn’t fermented from rice like wine is from grapes but it is actually brewed like beer. You can even find some Sakes on Untappd.

The waiter took our food orders and I ordered the Yaminiku, which is sliced beef with mixed vegetables in a special sauce, according to the menu. Something I hadn’t had before so I figured why not try it. The waiter got the rest of the tables order then was off to get the Miso soup. He came back with the soups and was one short for the hibachi and had to get another. Hint number one.

When the salad came, again he was one serving short and had to go back for another. Hint number two.

While we had our soups and salads I noticed that there didn’t seem to be a lot of staff on hand. Hint number three.

The hibachi cook came out with his cart of prepared items for cooking introduced himself to everyone and then confirmed the food orders. When he got to me he said, “Steak and Chicken.” To which I shook my head and replied, “Yaminiku”, or as close to that as I could remember and pronounce correctly. He looked down at his paper and obviously couldn’t find my order, then went on to confirm everyone else’s. He came back to me and asked again if I had steak and chicken and again I replied that I ordered Yaminiku. He excused himself, said he’d be right back and took his cart back to the kitchen. Hint number four.

After a short period he returned with his cart and said, “Ok, here we go!” then began the routine of prepping the hibachi. If you’ve been to a Japanese Steakhouse before then you know they begin with the eggs for the stir-fried rice, then any vegetables that need cooking, followed by low mein noodles and then start working on the meats. As he went around the table again checking on everyone’s order and confirming it with the meats he put on the hibachi, when he got to me he still had no food to confirm. When he began portioning out the rice and low mein he obviously didn’t have enough for my plate. Hint number five and the last I needed.

While all the other patrons at our hibachi were eating off of their plates I sat there with an empty plate feeling like Oliver Twist trying to ask for more gruel. I believe the cook saw my perturbation and began calling for the waiter who took our order. After he finally showed up and was asked where my food was I realized that he had dropped the ball big time here. And so did he. He ran off toward the kitchen (I am assuming). And the cook continued working on the meats that everyone has ordered.

He finished those quickly and began dispensing them to the various plates around him. By the time he was done I was still sitting there with an empty plate. He did a quick clean and thanked everyone, then looked at me apologetically and said he would find out where my food was.

After another few minutes, I told my friends that this was ridiculous and that I was about to get pissy with the manager and called for someone to get him to our table. It took another few minutes and just before he came over a different person came up and put my plate of food in front of me. When the manager arrived I told him that I was getting ready to complain about not having any food but that it was there now. He nodded his head and went away to leave me to my eating.

The food was good but not any better then any other similar restaurant I have been too. Once we all finished we still had to wait around for checks to come out which is unusual. Which was another telltale sign that the place was understaffed that evening. This was confirmed again as we left and I could see a lot of folks in the Sushi bar looking like they were waiting for things as well.

I will give the place credit in that my bill was probably only 40% of what it would have been otherwise. And the waiter did apologize to me for his mistake. And the cook was not to blame for my dish not being included in the cart. He was working from the list he had been given.

This is a clear sign of bad management. The restaurant should not have been that understaffed to begin with. If the waiter was new or needed help he should have gotten it. Or maybe he needs another line of work to be in. And part of the benefit of going to a hibachi is getting to watch them prepare your food for you. My plate was done in the kitchen so I don’t even know who prepared it.

I have heard some folks tell me over the last couple of years that they liked this place. The last time I was here it was ok. Nothing outstanding but nothing wrong either. And your experience  with this place will hopefully differ from mine if you go there. But I won’t be going back.

These two places are perfect examples of what makes for a good experience. The Samurai Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar was a perfect example of what you don’t want a patron to experience. The food was fine and the cook entertaining but the whole experience was a very big miss.

Yet, Curia on the Drag while first entering I was dismayed by only seeing three taps, the overall experience makes me want to go back again. A definite hit.

Here’s hoping your weekend began better.


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