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  1. Met up with some friends on Friday night to try Smokehouse Live in Leesburg. No better way I can think of to describe this place than suburban Hill Country - same system, same basic theme, very similar menus. The good - The bar area here is bright and very open with friendly service, a limited bar menu and good happy hour prices. Nice selection of bourbons, some cocktails during happy hour for $5 and a tap selection that goes beyond the Shiner limitations of HC downtown. But then... The rest - Hill Country (normally I would say so many comparisons to HC would be unfair, but they don't seem to even be trying to hide the imitation, so...) somehow manages to pull off sticking a room full of bench tables together and have it not seem totally cold and impersonal. Smokehouse Live can't say the same - plywood walls, disjointed floor plan and an oddly cramped 'market' ordering area made me miss some cheap and tacky kitsch and finished hardwood. But hey, you're here for the barbeque, right? The pulled pork was ok - not awesome, but not bad - wished it had more bbq flavor. I will admit - I order lean brisket - and am used to this being a bit more on the dry side than the 'wet' orders, but this was so dry it was crumbling apart. The beef shoulder (crod) is just a hard cut to work with - even after trimming visible tough areas I still had trouble chewing (not sure this is as much the restaurants fault as just a tough cut). Texas Chainsaw sauce was ok, though could have used more heat for being the 'spicy' version; eastern carolina was a little close to being straight vinegar for me. Please, for the love of God, if you only read one sentence in this write up, read this one: A 16oz portion of collard greens will cost you $14.25. Just to make sure we didn't miss anyone there - A 16oz portion of greens will cost you $14.25. Now to be fair, your little order card does list the price for each side in tiny little numbers inside the bubbles. Generally being a person who is not so concerned with price that I thought a side order of collard greens for two people might break me, I didn't really pay attention - after all, its a side of greens and some turkey that was left over from the day before. I would love to see their food cost for this. Or for the $14.25 portion of macaroni and cheese. Or for the $14.25 portion of lima beans and corn. But moving on... It was our server's first day, or at least appeared to be, so I hold her completely blameless but when you are half way through your meal and still do not have someone take your drink order, AND when you have flagged down three different staff members begging for drinks and then a manager, AND when you give you drink order to all three of these staff members never to see said drinks, it gets old. I'll still never understand why, when the new server finally appeared, she made an Arnold Palmer using Mountain Dew, but at this point I was beyond questioning. Bottom line - would totally go back for happy hour at the bar and listen to some music, but the dinner experience was approaching 'one-and-done' levels of not good. P.s. didn't want to start a new topic for a restaurant so far out that wasn't good, but please feel free to move as needed
  2. Sunday evening found us at the Rail Stop Restaurant in The Plains, following a tasting at Chrysalis Vineyards and a stroll through Middleburg. Lacking a reservation, we were seated in the less formal, but cozy, front room. I was a little concerned about how dinner would go, as our dining companions were my SO’s parents who were visiting and previous attempts to impress/please had been less than successful (how could they not like Ray’s?!), Well, it turned out to be a very good meal, even if the service was on the slow side and a bit scattered. We started with a few shared appetizers: A special of seared tuna on a soba noodle salad – the piece of tuna was smallish, but flavorful. The noodles were a bit too cold – room temp would have been better – but fresh and tender. Also, Duck spring rolls with a raspberry sauce – the wrapper was more egg roll than spring roll but the shredded duck filling was tender and full of flavor. The mains were a hit (except for one but that was due to a lack of attention paid to the description) and 3 of the 4 were fish. I had the halibut served with a mushroom risotto and asparagus. This had to have been some of the most perfectly cooked fish I’ve had in a long time. It came out piping hot, moist, and delicious. The same could be said for the grilled salmon, served on a bed of vegetables, and the mackerel fillet special, served over a cioppino that included trout and a few other seafood treats. Somebody in that kitchen really knows how to cook fish! The only dish that left someone disappointed was another special – smoked chicken and fettucine (both the chicken smoked, and pasta made, in-house) with vegetables and garlic oil. The recipient had failed to note the garlic oil in the description and was expecting a more traditional sauce. The bite I had was very good – the chicken had a great flavor and wasn’t the least bit dry and the pasta was fantastic. We wrapped things up with the homemade mixed berry tart and, MM-MM-MM, they were good! Hot and topped with a crispy crumble, the blueberries were huge and sweet and the strawberries weren’t bad either. The only quibble was that there was a very long pause between being seated and ordering drinks and again between the apps and the entrees. I didn’t mind but the men in the party were beginning to get restless My only other visit was for lunch a couple years ago, but I do remember the chili was very good and I had the added excitement of a Robert Duvall sighting. He sat at the table in front of mine and I had a hard time trying not to stare too much!
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