As this paper’s dining critic, one of my favorite functions is to master the art of a second bite — or a “do-over,” as I call them.
In Part 2 of my series where I revisit restaurants that had shaky starts when they opened in 2013, I’m featuring two eateries on the verge of getting it right.
Sometimes I’ll find a restaurant performing well for food but still struggling — or flopping — in another area. Today’s column features two restaurants that exemplify that: The food has improved, while service or atmosphere still need tending.
Are they still worth your dining dollars? I say yes, but with reservations. Both restaurants deliver styles of cuisine in short supply in the South Sound. Yet will diners be as forgiving of the lapses as I am? Only time and your dining dollars will tell.
2717 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 253-761-7685, facebook.com/TacomaSoul
An upstairs dining room is a tough sell at Soul in the Proctor neighborhood. Aside from the challenges it presents for diners with mobility issues, it’s a lot to ask of diners to have them walk up the stairs straight into a dining room without a greeter in sight.
Staff at Soul also could use more training. Servers overshared personal details, didn’t communicate well when dishes were delayed and tended to disappear when most needed.
But I haven’t given up on Soul because of the food. The menu is a combination of southern American soul food alongside Latin dishes — both tough to find in the South Sound.
A switch in chefs in the fall — opening Chef Maria Torres was replaced by owner Natural Allah, who operates Soul with business partner Jennifer Zaskorski — has led to much more consistent food.
From the Latin side of the menu (Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic food), an early visit found leathery pernil, which is roasted pork shoulder. A recent visit found a vastly improved dish — supple pork ($17) with rice, potato salad and garlicky plantain fritters, called “tostones.”
An early visit found arroz con pollo ($14) an overcooked disaster of a single chicken thigh on a bed of brittle rice. A recent visit yielded just-right chicken in double the portion, with fluffy rice.
While the Latin dishes improved, the restaurant also has become even better at its Southern soul food.
Fried chicken ($14) made me ready to declare Soul almost to the level of the Lincoln District’s Uncle Thurm’s — my go-to Tacoma restaurant for Southern fried chicken. The crunchy, well-seasoned jacket broke to steamy chicken. Collard greens came thumped with pork, mac and cheese with a bit of tang.
Jambalaya ($15) was a rice dish heavy on the shrimp and chicken, light on the andouille sausage — tasty all around. Chicken fried steak ($14) was extra large, coated with a brown country gravy. Mushy yams tasted too much of cinnamon, but buttery corn was perfectly skillet fried.
A po’ boy with shrimp ($12) paid decent homage to this Louisiana classic of breaded shrimp, a pickle and tomato smooshed into a hoagie roll. The only thing missing was shredded iceberg lettuce — I’m not a fan of flaccid leaf lettuce on a sandwich that requires crunch.
Whether you order Soul’s Southern or Latin cuisine, do know that this food is a dieter’s nightmare. Soul’s food is fried, fatty and flavorful. You’ve been warned.
My Greek and Italian Restaurant
2303 N. Pearl St., Tacoma; 253-752-2700, mygreekanditalianrestaurant.com
Every time I walk into My Greek and Italian Restaurant, which opened in early 2013 in Tacoma’s Westgate shopping center, I am struck by how much the restaurant still resembles the restaurant that preceded it: Shari’s.
Brown tones and dated interior aside, service also suffers.
On one visit, a server awkwardly forgot our order and bombed on checking our table throughout the meal. On another, two servers chatted while we watched our food sit — and sit and sit — on the counter. Those are the kinds of things that make diners pledge to never return.
Why keep eating there, you ask?
What kept me returning was a style of food in short supply in the South Sound, a style of casual Greek cuisine My Greek does very well. At last count, my South Sound Greek restaurant tally was at eight, with only four of those in Tacoma.
My Greek dips into Italian pastas and pizzas — the shrimp fettuccine Alfredo at lunch was a good value at $13.95 — but owner Nader Morcos does Greek cuisine best.
Recent visits found improvements over early visits that had portion size and execution troubles.
Lamb eaters, take note. Lamb can turn fickle in inexperienced hands, but My Greek’s lamb — in the form of souvlaki skewers ($9.95-$13.95) or chops ($17.95) — has been the consistent success of this restaurant.
A well-priced gyro ($8.95) held nearly twice the amount of ground beef and lamb than at a previous visit. A nearly double-size falafel sandwich ($9.95) was a complete turnaround from an earlier visit. Creamy orbs of fried garbanzo beans licked with garlic provided satisfying crunch and spice, quite the opposite of a previously disappointing rubbery falafel. Vegetarians, you must try this sandwich and the spanakopita ($9.95), a flaky phyllo turnover holding savory layers of feta and spinach.
Most meals come with sides. Pick the rice or Greek potatoes, with red sauce, over fried Greek potatoes that were consistently dry and under seasoned, or the green beans that tasted too squeaky or too watery on separate visits.
If you’re offered a choice of avgolemono with your meal, seize the opportunity. The light, lemony broth of this Greek chicken soup is a treat.