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Which is why, if kids must be part of the equation, we appreciate Pei Wei. It's already deafeningly loud, so a few more decibels won't matter. It's ultra-casual, so chucking food isn't too much of an embarrassment. And it's cheap, $5.50 to $9 for a full adult meal, plus just $3.25 for the little ankle-biters. While adults can fill up on P.F. Chang's-style coconut curry shrimp, spicy chicken chow fun, chili-hoisin beef or Mongolian scallops, the rug rats can stuff themselves on a Kid's Wei meal.
Pei Wei doesn't bother with any vegetables (just more artillery, since kids won't eat the stuff). The basics include teriyaki, honey or lo mein chicken on top of egg noodles. Simple. No nonsense. Enough carbs to ensure the kiddies will pass out on the car ride home.
If we had it our wei, kids wouldn't be allowed in restaurants until they could behave politely when released from their cages. In the meantime, we'll feed them at Pei Wei.
The new Hap's location is open 24 hours, Monday through Saturday. Oh joy! Full breakfasts (pork ribs or hot links in picante sauce with egg). Drop-dead ribs, chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket, all served in Hap's trademark brown paper sack. One bite and you're in Hap's heaven.
Their lesson plans span the globe. There might be an evening in Vienna, with Wiener schnitzel, spaetzle with pepper and crisp shallots, braised cabbage with bacon, and apricot crepes. It might be a menu of 10-minute meals featuring (surprise) name-brand pressure cookers. It might be American, Southwestern, Mexican or vegetarian. There's a lot of bread baking, with (who'd have guessed) Bosch bread-making machines. But it's free! Consider it a Tupperware party with a 'tude.
Most customers come in for the more traditional meats -- prime Iowa corn-fed beef and pork, sushi-grade fish, live lobster, handcrafted sausage and Young's farm poultry. Beef is made better by at least two weeks of aging, and extras are extra special (homemade twice-baked potatoes, artisan breads, produce).
We're envisioning a theme dinner party -- the Valley's own version of the Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando movie The Freshman.
Kudos to La Crème. Hungry? Grab a great, prepared-to-order sandwich made with Block & Barrel meat -- perhaps turkey breast, pepperjack cheese, lettuce and tomato on rye, or roast beef, pastrami and Swiss on sourdough -- for only $3 to $5. Thirsty? Alongside the Budweiser, there's Blue Moon beer, a Belgian wheat white ale; Napoleon Courvoisier cognac; and Patron Tequila Aejo. Other treats include cigars, Nanci's frozen yogurt, fresh fritters, sticky buns and cinnamon rolls, and those stop-and-go staples, Corn Pops and Lucky Charms cereal. And no Circle K we've found has spicy eggplant salad.
La Crème is the top of the crop for us.
Nobody has the seductive selection that Akbar's does, imported loose teas from all over the world, complete with Chatsford tea pots, tea accessories, gift baskets, tins and bags. Every variety we could want is available: black teas of China or India, green teas, oolong teas, blended teas, flavored teas, herbal teas. Essentially, anything leafy and lovely that can fit in a cup can be found here.
The Wine Co. offers free tastings several nights a week, with us relaxed at the cozy bar or kicking back on one of the front-porch-style sofas and chairs clustered in a cradle of boxes. Pretty much any varietal we crave is in stock, but on a night that AZ Wine is out of our preferred Newton Claret, the proprietor suggests Catena, a 2000 Malbec from LunLunta Vineyards of Argentina. It's stunning, with intense aromas of ripe blackberry interlaced with vanilla and tobacco, and just what we wanted. For wines, that's as good AZ it gets.
There's no sugar used in these starchy marvels, and none needed. Instead, Willo relies on fresh fruits and nuts for its sweeter treats, like sun-dried cranberries in the cranberry-hazelnut roll. All the standard favorites are in attendance, too, but these are better breads than even the finest home kitchen could hope to achieve. The list runs the gamut from familiar to fancy: pumpernickel, sesame, earthy rye cut with chunks of real red onion, strong charactered Kalamata olive loaf, the signature Willo loaf (think French baguette), round ciabatta roll, olive focaccia, sunflower-seed, rosemary-focaccia and much more.
Willo is, hands down, our breadwinner.